It’s not been easy for Anna Hazare’s troops to manage the buildup at the principal venue of the anti-corruption protest in the national capital. But they’ve done pretty well
The easiest way to head for Ramlila Maidan in Delhi is to get there by bus, if you are familiar with the routes, or by the Delhi Metro train to New Delhi Railway Station if you are not. Either way you can follow your nose, as you will weave your way through tonnes of garbage as well as open air toilets to reach the site of Anna Hazare's fast. This is through Kamla Market and the transport godowns there, as you enter the Ramlila grounds from the garbage dump end (the north end of the parking lot) through the entry gate for the public, and you are at once struck by the fact that you have never seen the Delhi Police being so polite and people friendly as they are now.
However, even they cannot do everything, and we all wade through the garbage and slush of overnight rain. As a matter of simple observation, it is a miracle that the increasingly weaker Anna Hazare is not succumbing to cholera or other water-borne diseases spread by insanitary conditions, so filthy are the environs at a location which could have been kept in pristine condition with just a little bit of co-operation from all parties concerned.
Either a senior dignitary of some sort-any sort-should announce a visit, or the Army should seek permission to look after one of their own, and clean up the place. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi, in its wisdom, has obviously given up.
This morning was no different. It has been like this from the start. However, evolution of such events is marked by the fact that in addition to a separate gate for VIPs, there is now also a gate for VVIPs. The access from that side, closer to Hamdard and Asaf Ali Road and the original Chor Bizarre, is spanking clean and full of sanitation workers wearing day-glo jackets.
It is a mark of pride to be allowed in from that gate, and the new-generation volunteers there appear to be of a different breed from the ground level volunteers, and in their best form too, strutting around and being rude to non-VVIPs, while the cops look on bemused, happier that somebody else will now take the blame in the forthcoming days for being, well, like police in an occupied state.
As I watch, box-loads of breakfast from a branded fast-food chain are unloaded, and despatched somewhere, probably towards the VVIP parking lot for VVIP drivers and VVIP hangers-on.
On another side, closer to the now blocked main road called JLN Marg, are the vast technological marvels called OB vans. These are, apparently, excused and forgiven from all pollution and emission control regulations-the sound and smoke is deafening. A busybody camera assistant-type gets upset when he sees me taking photos and tells me that it is not allowed. The next moment, another TV news channel person asks me if I want to make a video of my visit there.
From these OB vans (outside broadcasting vans) and their accompanying mobile gen sets, a wild tangle of wires of all sorts move through the slush and chaos, all mixed-high voltage, low voltage, and media. There is not a single fire engine to be seen.
The crowds are in the centre, suitably kept behind the VVIP arena, the VIP arena, the arena where people come to give bytes to the TV crew and the media arena. This is also where the real volunteers move around, eagerly distributing packets of water (in plastic), packets of biscuits (also in plastic) and bananas (thankfully, not in plastic).
On one side is the area where people are supposed to be fasting in support. But it is empty, after all, it is hardly 8:30 in the morning and the TV crews are just about stretching their jimmy jibs and launching their first smokes.
At another end, call it the north-west end of Ramlila grounds, are the catering tents. A smell of deep fried bread pakoras fills the area and the lines are very quick to form. There is no let-up from the slush and filth here, too, and since the pakodas are served in laminated paper plates, the area is soon afloat with more neo-plastic garbage.
Mini truckloads of victuals are unloaded in the open space nearby. Not too far away, are what can only be overflowing mobile toilets. Nearby are the medical assistance counters. Life and support comes full circle here in the same area.
But despite all this, and probably made all the more resolute because of these adverse conditions, there is a core of volunteers and protestors who keep the momentum going. They are, to an extreme, well behaved and going about their work diligently.
One of Parivartan's old timers recognises me and summons me over towards the VVIP gate, I politely refuse and tell him that I would rather go walkabout, and he nods back wryly. The backbone of Anna Hazare's protest is still in the capable hands of this lot. That, as well as the fact that at random places all over the city and on the Metro train network which I use to return home, are people wearing the Anna caps or other symbols of the "India Against Corruption" protest.
As I head to leave Ramlila grounds for New Delhi Railway Station to take the train back home, while Anna Hazare is still in his chambers, the crowd starts swelling. It is now closer to 9am, the streets are full of people heading for various offices in the area, jumping and avoiding the mess on the roads since the pavements are all taken over by other activities, and in the distance, patriotic songs blaring out of Ramlila grounds get consumed by the howl of pressure horns and roaring engines. A television OB van going the wrong way in a one-way street completes the picture. The police, of course, are everywhere, and watching.
The movement generated by Anna Hazare indicates that there’s a lot that can be done even without an anti-corruption law. The first part of a three-part article outlines what we ought to do so that the Jan Lokpal and Lokayuktas are effective in catching the crooks
One thinks of the fairy tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The people of the town of Hamelin suffered terribly from a rat menace. An army of rats had invaded the town and popped up everywhere-in the wheat bins, the sugar tins, on the carpets, under the chairs, and they even sat on the shoulders of little babies.
The people then heard of a person called the Pied Piper who could rid the town of rats. The mayor of Hamelin called the Piper and offered him a huge amount of money to lure the rats away. The Piper started playing a tune on his pipe which hypnotised the rats and made them run after him. Thousands upon thousands of rats ran out onto the streets. The Piper piped his way to the river running near the town, and all the rats rushed into the river and drowned.
A nice story, but it does not help the people of India, a country in which the rat plague is of a different nature. These rats are rats in the American meaning of the word: corrupt slime-ball crooks who are looting the people's money.
Now, read this recent agency news item from Beijing.
"BEIJING: Local officials in a western China city have raised a "cat army" to battle rodents that have been destroying crops and pasture land around it.
Pest control officials of Bole city in Xinjiang province said they had collected and released 150 stray cats to tackle the menace of what is described as a plague of rats.
The desperate measure comes in the wake of estimates by authorities that 5.4 million hectares of farm and pasture land in Xinjiang province has been affected by the rodent menace.
The feline hunters have proved their worth because the numbers of rats and rat holes have come down drastically, the official Xinhua news agency quoted the officials as saying."
Anna Hazare is metaphorically trying to create an army of "cats" (the Jan Lokpal and the team of investigators and prosecutors) to trap and jail the army of "rats" (corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists, etc). And seeing the weak Manmohan/Sonia government shaking in its shoes and running around like chickens chased by a fox, we can be sure that the Jan Lokpal will become a reality in six months or a year. And the cats will trap the rats in their thousands. Maybe we should call them 'White Cats', to distinguish them from the 'Black Cats' who protect the 'fat cats'.
And now, a ray of hope even before the Jan Lokpal is up and running. This agency news item from a few days ago.
"PATNA: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's promise to confiscate ill-gotten properties of officials and to open schools for poor children in their palatial houses is close to becoming a reality.
The Patna High Court upheld a May order to confiscate the multi-storied building of suspended IAS officer Shiv Shankar Verma. The decks have been cleared for converting this building into a school for poor children, according to JD(U) state spokesman Sanjay Singh.
On July 6, 2007, sleuths of the Special Vigilance Unit raided Verma's houses and found movable and immovable properties worth about Rs1.43 crore, which were disproportionate to his known sources of income. Verma, then secretary of the minor irrigation department, was suspended.
A vigilance officer said the courts had so far ordered confiscation of properties in five cases. Three of these orders were passed in July. So, five more schools could come up soon."
We, as a country, are not a totally lost cause.
(R Vijayaraghavan has been a professional journalist for more than four decades, specialising in finance, business and politics. He conceived and helped to launch Business Line, the financial daily of The Hindu group. He can be contacted at [email protected].)