Last evening in Pune was historic! It was probably only the third time that the city has witnessed such euphoria after the Samyukta Maharashtra movement and the JP movement all those years ago
The imposing ramparts of Shaniwar Wada were witness to an electrifying moment in history, as more than 15,000 Puneites turned out on Friday evening in support of the campaign led by Anna Hazare against corruption in the country. The candle-light march, which was more than two kilometers long, began from Bal Gandharva and culminated at Shaniwar Wada. Candles in hand, the protestors marched in triumph-the young and the old, the feeble and the physically challenged, all joined in with a missionary zeal. The shouts were predictable: 'Anna Hazare aage bado, hum tumhare saath hain' and 'Hum honge kaamayab ek din'. But the passion was unexpected and quite unbelievable.
The mobilisation from the morning was by word of mouth, and through emails and SMSs. It spread like wild fire. By 6pm there were already more than 5,000 Puneites lined up on Jangli Maharaj Road, opposite Bal Gandharva. With every minute the crowd began to swell, all with the singular determination to eradicate corruption.
It's a long time since Pune witnessed any such euphoria. Mangesh Tendulkar rightly said, "The first time was during the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. The second was during the JP movement. This is the third in support of Anna Hazare's fast.''
Through the day, streams of people visited the pandal outside the Pune Municipal Corporation, where we undertook a day-long fast. Teenagers and youngsters joined in a 'skip a meal' campaign that required citizens not to eat any one meal of the day, whether it is breakfast, tea, lunch or dinner.
Youngsters made passionate speeches about how they were fed up with the corruption in everyday life that was even affecting their education. They talked about joining the fight because they wanted to have a better life in the country and not run away because of the daily inconveniences.
Representatives from IT companies told us that at least 500 techies had joined in the candle march. Around 85 NGOs pledged their support to the cause. And passersby stopped to inquire and lend their support too.
All described the common agony: Corruption that has reached mind-boggling levels and how high-profile politicians and bureaucrats who were guilty of this were getting away easily. They were angry and did not know how to express their anger-till now, that is. The untainted figure of Anna Hazare on a hunger protest at Jantar Mantar helped draw them together, like iron filings to a magnet.
It's the biggest victory of a people's movement since Independence. The nation has indeed arrived! Corrupt politicians are realising that they will not be able to take people for granted! It has been a triumph of the people's collective resolution and sacrifice. It's the beginning of the end of the corrupt scoundrels who rolled in wealth and luxury with the people's money!
Thank you for your support.
Getting Baba Ramdev in on Day 4 was brilliant, and timed with the statements by the Bajajs and Munjals added value which nobody could have predicted. The government totally miscalculated the rapid growth of the protests, not just in Delhi, but in the rest of the country. It could impact the forthcoming elections in various states, too
I was among a group of the Defence Colony Welfare Association Residents' Welfare Association-a mixed group of retired services personnel, professionals, home-makers and business-people-who joined in the protest against corruption, spearheaded by Anna Hazare, at Jantar Mantar, on Friday. The atmosphere there was vastly changed from what it was the previous day; not just because of the support from Baba Ramdev and Bollywood personalities like Farah Khan, Tom Alter and some others, in as much as there was a feeling that the government is on the back foot.
(Click here to see Kareena Kapoor and Mallika Sarabhai pledging support to Anna Hazare Courtesy: ANI, Sify.com)
If anything, the contingent of plain-clothes people, probably from an assortment of intelligence services, appeared even more worried, probably for having miscalculated the ground realities, as well as the strategic moves by the organizers. Getting Baba Ramdev in on Day 4 was brilliant, and timed co-terminus with the statements by the Bajajs and Munjals added value which nobody could have predicted. One particular gent, with whom I have developed a nodding acquaintanceship over the last few days, told me that they had totally miscalculated the rapid growth of the protests, not just in Delhi, but in the rest of the country. How it was likely to impact the forthcoming elections, too, in various states. And, how now not just the foreign press, but also diplomats were walking around openly.
The uniformed police and fire service personnel, on the other hand, looked even more relaxed and part of the milling crowds-it almost looked as though everybody had already figured out that these are our people, about each other. People were following instructions given by the local police and fire service and their ambulance services were parked strategically. Even the much-reviled Municipal Corporation of Delhi and New Delhi Municipal Corporation did their part-the mobile public toilets are an example in cleanliness, with some sanitation workers on duty explaining that this was one duty they were going to make sure was impeccable. And for the first time we saw what looked like off-duty armed forces people in fatigues walking around, without any of that uniformed self-consciousness that sometimes accompanies such events.
This has on one side grown into a nation-wide people's movement, that's not so much about a Lokpal Bill which people do not understand, or a man variously being referred to as hazaar, hazaara, hazaroo, hazra or something similar, but more about people now wanting an end to corruption across all levels. On the other side, the rumour mills were working overtime, with all sorts of stories about such and such leader having run away abroad, or the government planning stern reprisal, and then what happens next. Some were even asking why Shobhaa De, for example, has not been seen of or heard from lately!
A couple of major questions on the minds of protestors were 'how do we go about courting arrest' and 'what other methods will we use to make sure this is a success too'. Some volunteers on the fourth day of their fast were taken away to hospital; others appeared as resolute as before. The percentage of women in the crowd seemed to have gone up, and so too the visible number of wealthier and upper middle-class people. Also, people appeared to have reacted with disappointment to the statement by Mohandas Pai of Infosys that he did not want to say anything about corruption in India. Bajaj and Munjal, on the other hand, were cheered through some hand-written posters.
It is encouraging to see the number of people present going up multiples, this despite the cricket frenzy that has not ebbed. The whole of Jantar Mantar, from the Ashoka Road end to Tolstoy Marg end, is barricaded and converted into a walking-only zone. This is a stretch of 1.5 km, a change from the 50 metres space that was initially alloted on one side of Jantar Mantar Road. The special space I had on top of the South Indian Snack Centre is now totally occupied by many others who have discovered the place. Barring the few people sitting in front, at Jantar Mantar, the rest of the area is "standing room only".
My advice to those who want to go to Jantar Mantar is to head there early in the morning. Make your presence felt. Get counted, now. Where the movement will eventually lead may not be entirely clear yet, but it cannot get any worse than what the government has already brought matters to-now, things can only improve.
It is easy to be swayed by the candle lights at Jantar Mantar or the patronizing attitude of the media. But the reality is that a large number of people are coming out to be counted and spotted on television, because they are simply tired of being hit by corruption at every step they take
South Indian Snack Centre (SISC) was a little hole in the wall behind the Jantar Mantar bus stop, when political demonstrations were held at the Boat Club Lawns, off Rajpath, till Mahendra Singh Tikait's followers changed the rules of the game as far as political rallies in Delhi is concerned, forever, 23 years ago. Political rallies had always held the city to ranson, trashing the pristine lawns off Rajpath was par for the course, but there were bigger issues-long satyagrahas could endanger the planning for the Republic Day Parade, winter afternoon siestas on the lawns were sacred for many who hung around in the Bhavans in those days, and most of all the music played at these functions was off-key and disliked by the swish set.
This evolved into the famous episode when Deep Purple, as well as other rock music was played more loudly as a response to the motivational songs played by the BKU Chaudhary. All political and other rallies, as well as protests, were subsequently banished to the faraway, sylvan area between Jantar Mantar and Ashoka Road, a very quiet and cosy part of town, with the traffic organised in such a way that it simply did not disturb any route, except those buses parked nearby, waiting to pick up passengers from Connaught Place and Central Secretariat, in the pre-Metro days.
With Kerala House next to it, Bible Bhavan behind it, assorted Socialist party offices in front, SISC could not but do well. About the best value for money in terms of basic southie veggie, it is now the second most popular place visited at the Anna Hazare "India against Corruption" protest, though you may not notice it on television. Its roof is used by television crew and photographers for top angle shots, and the repertoire served has been enhanced to include paneer dosa and capsicum utthapam, to augment the basic idli-dosa-vada-upma fare.
At a modest estimate the hafta paid to a variety of 'authorities' to continue business for a small stall like this would run into lakhs of rupees a month, and it is as simple as that. We can say what we want a few metres away, but the day we can stop corruption even a few metres away from this spot, is when it really starts showing results on the ground. Even the ragpickers present, for whom this is a bonanza as they go about picking up everything on the ground that has been thrown away or discarded, have never had it so good-even they have to pay a little something to be allowed to wander around inside.
And that is the simple truth from Jantar Mantar, where it is currently very easy to get swayed by the two main players present-the upbeat middle-class energy being best motivated to walk around with candles that are eventually placed on the ground; and the patronizing as well as supercilious attitude of the media, who are the heroes in a reality show situation, where everybody else besides them, in any sort of power scenario, is a villain. That is, other than the old man fasting on a platform and his group, who also are being pushed into corners by smarter and less tired adversaries, who have the power of the State behind them. Every time Arvind Kejriwal tries to get some rest, he is called to answer another bunch of questions, and then participate in intense strategy sessions before and after.
On Friday, yog guru Baba Ramdev joined the campaign, with a demand to hang the corrupt. Addressing the protestors he challenged the government, saying that if those running the system were clean, they should not hesitate to give capital punishment to those who are corrupt. He said the government was indifferent to the issue of corruption as the rulers were not affected by it. He also challenged the government on the constitution of the committee to work on the Lokpal Bill, saying it must ensure that the five representatives from the government side must be absolutely taint-free or else they would not be accepted.
Yes, the issue is simple and drills down to a simple point-corruption. How the corruption will go away is not important, since the people believe that all existing tools are as good as useless, so anything else new would be better. So up comes the Lokpal Bill, now part of a trendy song, also. That this momentum is because people want a Lokpal Bill in a particular format is something easy to believe in, if all we do is sit and watch the talking heads go into gabfest mode on television. The reality on the ground is that a large number of people are coming out to be counted and spotted on television, because they are simply tired of being hit by corruption at every step they take, or a drive they make. Large corruption cases like the 2G scam, the CWG scam and other multi-thousand crore scams merge seamlessly into the smaller 5-and-10 rupee corruption scams going on everywhere. All will vanish thanks to the Lokpal Bill.
But if the Lokpal Bill is diluted so it does not work, then what?
That the politicians and public servants are easily identifiable and perceived reasons for this anti-people step is clear, if and when it happens. However, this will be taking a very simple view of the larger intelligence that the people on the ground possess, and this is where the electronic media has lost touch. Nobody is forgetting the Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi episodes, for example. Incidentally, neither of these two worthies have come to Jantar Mantar as yet. As of now the television media is making the correct sounds as far as the crowds are concerned, by lending support to the movement. This, however, appears to be changing in ever so subtle ways, with the specialists and experts expressing views that are divergent from the popular sentiment.
On Day 4, the euphoria of possible "victory" may shift to stark realities, as Anna asks candle-holding marchers to start filling jails. And if this does not pan out the way it should, the villain in line will be the media. Especially the television media, whose 'experts' are being seen as pushing views that are divergent from what the people believe is the truth. This is the ground level observation in a movement that spans all sorts of ideologies from the Left to the Right and in between. Which makes it more dangerous, as this group will look for the next villain who killed their truths.
And their truth is simple. A vast number of laws have been used to push the public down, like the big pigs did on Animal Farm. Here is a chance for a single law for the masses, to try and equalize things against the big pigs in our society; but if this does not happen, the guilty will have to be found. And that, if you look carefully through the history of mass movements of this sort, often means the Fifth Estate.
Meanwhile, what is not lost on many in the crowd is that the price of energy is shooting up, the availability of water is going down, and the environment is getting increasingly polluted. It is therefore, also felt that a reduction in corruption could somehow ease things there, too. And if a Lokpal Bill is not introduced the way Anna Hazare wants it, then the politicians and their henchmen/women will, once again, be responsible for this. And that this was caused by the media, who are perceived and currently strutting around at Jantar Mantar, pretending to be the solution providers and opinion makers, rather than the mirrors.