On a morning round at the Ramlila Maidan: It’s quite messy here, but a devoted group is working hard to keep it all together
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.