Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Five days under the auspices of Anna: Day III

Day-3 of Anna's fast and after last evenings successful candle light march I woke up feeling great. Doing good things does that to you. Unlike my regular routine of grabbing the newspaper the first thing I did this morning was to toast four slices of bread for my self. Well, being without solid food for two days at a go does make you realize the importance of food.

After paying my broadband bill I rushed to Jantar-Mantar and like the previous two days distributed pamphlets in the metro. Quite a few people seemed interested in what was going on. Some asked me questions regarding Jan Lokpal and I tried my best to clear their doubts and reservations about Janlokpal and the ongoing event. Many of them pledged their support to the cause.

I finally reached Jantar Mantar at half past eleven and got busy with managing the crowd. The crowd that day was much more than the previous two days and the volunteers like me were having a tough time managing it but we were enjoying it at the same time. Then I met a group of engineering students from Greater Noida who had come all the way to support the cause and given that they were my university juniors I joined them and we did a flag march in the inner circle of Cannaut Place. We shouted slogans, waved the Indian flag and distributed pamphlets. The public response was great and raised our morale.

We came back to Jantar Mantar by 4pm by which the preparations for the candle march had started. I joined others in the preparations and by five thirty after another stimulating speech by Anna we left for India Gate. The mere sight of thousands walking quietly with candles in hand would have shook the political leaders sitting in north and south block across the road.

It wasn't Tahrir Square as some people put it, it was more awe inspiring than Tahrir Square. In Egypt there were gun shots and killings but here, in India we followed the words of Mahatma Gandhi and like a true Gandhian did not resort to violence or damage to public property in any way. Silence is more powerful than shouts. I had heard that, now I believe that.

We came back to Jantar Mantar by 7:30 and the march consisted of more than ten thousand people. None of them paid or brought there in trucks, they all were present there because they wanted to help in the cause.

After coming back a went back to my crowd management duty. An assamese friend of mine also came to Jantar Mantar after her office. It was her first experience of such an event and to be true it was a bit unpleasant for her as she hates crowds. Despite that she agreed to the fact that this was indeed an unexpected mass of humans. She had come expecting a few hundred people but what she saw was thousands and thousands with candles in their hands and marching silently.

At around nine in night I went to the help desk as I was thirsty and needed a glass of water. There I met Prahlad, a volunteer who is known by everyone associated with IAC to be proactive and passionate about the cause. Prahlad bhai asked me if I would volunteer to stay in the Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) hospital with the three patients who had been sent there from among those who were fasting due to dehydration. I was a bit reluctant in the start and tried my best to find others for the job but everyone said, "I can do it tomorrow but not tonight." Thus in the end I took the responsibility. I walked my friend to the nearby Patel Chowk metro station and then went to the hospital with another volunteer called Manoj.

There we met Yogesh, Ramashray and Sneha who had been performing the duty of looking after the patients till now. They stayed on for a while, introduced us to the three elderly people who were admitted and briefed us about the medicines and blood reports, etc. A few media persons also came and informed us that a few other anshankari's were unwell and they might be brought to RML. I and Ramashray went and talked to the lady on reception about availability of beds and were told, "There are no more beds, the best we can do is to put two of you patients on one bed."

It angered all of us but we decided not to take the matter any further till any more patients arrive. Thankfully no more patients arrived that night. Yogesh, Ramashray and Sneha left at about 11 in night for Jantar Mantar where they were supposed to spend the night.

I and Manoj sat by the three patients, namely O.S. Chauhan, Rampal Singh and Mahant Gopaldas. Chauhan saab was a 74 year old ex-government servant who had come from Bhopal to take part in the agitation, Rampal Singh was from Etawah in U.P. and Gopaldas ji was Mahant of a temple somewhere near Bhopal. He had undertaken such fasts earlier too but this time had decided to do it without water and during regular checkup the doctors found that he had fever and brought him to the hospital.

At about three in night I started to feel a bit sleepy and decided to take rest for two hours as at six n the morning Manoj had to leave for his home. I can out of the patient room and spread the bed sheet Manoj had got with him on the floor outside the ward. There were few other sitting there and I also sat down with them. One of them noticed the yellow colored batch with a message to our respected Prime Minister written on it and asked if I was part of Anna's movement. I replied, 'Yes, I am.'

What followed was an hour long discussion on whether or not the corruption in India can be rooted out, whether Anna's fast was morally correct, whether the Government will relent or not. After an hour when Manoj came out for a stroll he saw me in middle of a heated discussion and said, "I thought you were tired and wanted to sleep." I didn't reply, just grinned and continued with the discussion. Manoj also joined the discussion and after a while I went to sleep at about 4 am.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Five days under the auspices of Anna: Day II

It was 6th of April and I got up at about 9am in the morning with my legs still aching due to the long evening at Jantar Mantar on the previous day. The first thing I did after waking was to grab the newspaper as I still wasn't sure whether or not enough coverage will be given to Anna by the media.

To my surprise Anna was on the first page. The snowball had started to roll and I knew that now it would not take long before the movement spreads to the general public, the middle class who generally like to sit home and observe things. I got up and after getting ready reached Jantar Mantar by 11:30am. On the way I distributed pamphlets in metro like the day before and people at least knew about the movement thanks to the media. I was still being discouraged but at least people knew what I was a part of. A positive change none-the-less.

At Jantar Mantar I spent a few hours distributing pamphlets and explaining people who asked about the bill about the features of the bill. At the same time I could see many people carrying out different kind of antics trying to grab media attention. Well, some things would never change, would they?

Anyways, I tried my best to keep out of the camera view as my parents were not aware that I was participating in this event. They are really skeptical about such things, specially because my dad also has a political background.

When I got a bit tired I sat down with a group of people almost my age and was thus introduced to Manish, Ankit, Vikas and some others. They were students from different colleges, some of journalism, some of law, some of CA but one thing that bound them was they were at Jantar Mnatar for Anna. We talked about the current political scenario, how Anna would effect it and many other things.

Also listened to Dr. Vishwas while he was anchoring on stage and also invited him to our group and got photographed with him. Around that time O.P. Chautala arrived. For the uninformed, Mr. Chautala is a politician from Haryana and leader of Indian National Lok Dal. Currently he is the leader of opposition in Haryana Assembly and has several cases including that of disproportionate assets pending against him and his family. When people saw Mr. Chautala in his trademark green pagdi going towards the stage with the aim of meeting Anna and using the stage for his political agenda everybody decided that he should not be allowed on stage.

What followed was power of the masses. The politicians who have for years pushed around the public like cattle got a good taste of their own medicine. Chautala was not allowed on the stage by the public, slogans were raised against him and eventually he had to leave seething with anger due to the humiliation he had to suffer at the hands of the very people whom his security used to treat like garbage.

After Chautala left Anna, having spent almost 30 hrs without food by that time addressed us and said, "We are Gandhian's and there is no place for such actions in our behavior. We should not behave so aggressively. Let them come but they will not be allowed on stage."

All of started to prepare for the candle light march from India Gate to Jantar Mantar after this. Despite having been fasting for a day and a half most of the volunteers were on their tows. Everyone was running around doing some work or the other. No body needed to tell the volunteers to do the work, everyone would find a work for himself. It was like the 'Grand Indian Wedding' where everyone pitched in without being asked to.

Around 4:45pm we started to assemble people for going to India Gate from Jantar Mantar. Around then Uma Bharti ji arrived. Uma Bharti was associated with BJP for a long time and she is also one of the prime faces of BJP during the Babri Masjid demolition. Despite Anna having asked us to exercise restraint the crowd surrounded Uma Bharti and raised slogans against her.

She was not pushed around like Chautala ji was and even allowed to go in front of the stage for Anna's darshan but a crowd accompanied her raising slogans like 'Netagiri nahi chalegi', 'Sangh ke logon wapas jao', 'Saare neta chor hain' and after everything simply 'Chor Chor' when she started to leave. She wasn't allowed on stage like Chautala and with the media flocking her like a pack of hungry hyenas on a corpse with the public raising slogans against her she went towards the area where OB vans were parked. That was the only time in the five day fast by Anna when police had to intervene and stop the crowd from following her. Uma ji, the politician that she is, stood giving comments to media on the other side of the road while people riased slogans against her from across the police barricade.

After this Anna again spoke and explained to us the Gandhian philosophy, why politicians should be allowed to visit, but not get on stage and why we, the youngsters should exercise restraint while opposing someone.

The youth soon left for Indian Gate in the form of a march and we distributed pamphlets in the way about Anna and the Jan lokpal. Gaurav Bakshi, one of Arvind Kejriwal's associate was the walking with us and to my surprise he was bare foot, when I asked the reason he replied, "I like it this way." The public raised slogans like 'Anna aap sangharsh karo hum aapke saath hain', 'Vande Matram' and 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'.

At India Gate about 2500-3000 people were assembled that evening. First of all there was an excellent nukkad-natak called Bhrashtachar (Corruption) by Asmita theater group and I think it was the first time in Indian history that there was a nukkad-natak at India Gate. At each dialog the public clapped and at each punch there were howls followed by silence so that the voice of only the theater artists is audible. It's not every day that you find an Indian audience doing that but that day was not a normal day by any measure. After this candles were distributed and lighted.

I had never been part of a candle march before this. I was one of those who believed in shoot then talk rather than soothe and talk. This way of protest was new to me and a tough one too. With the wax falling on my hands, jeans and shoes it took me a while to become accustomed to walking with a candle in hand and I tell you, it is not as easy as it seems. The candle went out multiple number of times, add to that the fact that we were in a crowd and had to keep from walking very close to each other for the fear of someone's clothes catching fire.

All that apart one thing struck me the most. The very people who while going to India Gate from Jantar Mantar were raising slogans on top of their voices were walking in silence with their heads bent down on the way back. Only the sound of them walking and vehicles engines stopped at crossings were audible, nothing else. It is not every day in India that you see 3000 people walking silently with candles in their hand and wax pouring on their hands.

The crowd walked till the stage where Anna was and raised it's candles as a mark of solidarity. The next hour was spent in singing patriotic songs along with the singers and dancing to 'Ye desh hai veer jawanon ka'. One thing that amazed one and all was the presence of large number of youth in the march.

In our country it's a general perception that the youth are uninterested in politics and are not as patriotic as they should be. Well, anyone who was there at Jantar Mantar that evening would have been forced to believe otherwise. Even Manish Sisodiya, one of the prime forces behind Arvind Kejriwal said, "The presence of youth here shows that the time for a change in the mindset has come."

The very same evening I received another compliment for the youth by an elderly gentleman. After finishing with the patriotic songs I went for buying a bottle of water (was still fasting) from the MCD shop. An elderly man standing there said, "It's nice to see young people like you here."

"Well, you people inspire us Uncle," I replied.

"Don't get inspired by us. Make your own way. Had we been so good the country would not have got here," he said philosophically.

I didn't reply but the sense of duty that I had been feeling since the previous day just got a bit heavier. In fact it is time to make our own path, it is time for Jan Lokpal.

I returned home at 10:30pm that evening and distributed pamphlets in the metro. In fact today people were asking for the pamphlets and seeing me with awe as well as bit of respect. Hope the revolution continues. On my part I'm sure I'll be here the next morning too, for Anna and for Jan Lokpal.

(Photo courtesy: Ankit Kakkar)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Five days under the auspices of Anna: Day I

On the evening of 4th April I was contemplating whether or not I should go to Jantar Mantar the next day. All my immediate friends had declined as they thought it was a waste of time and that had forced me to question my decision to go. Then at about 7:30 pm I received a call from Pranjal, an acquaintance whom I had't met for past six-seven years asking if I would go with him. I said yes without hesitation and today I feel proud of my decision.

On the morning of 5th April I met Pranjal at Rajiv Chowk metro station and though as per th schedule I was late by half an hour but knowing that this is India I was comfortable. We took an auto to Jantar Mantar and got down at the red light. There we met two more youngsters of our age group and joined them. They were Ankit Kakkad and Abhishek Aluria. We reached Jantar Mantar road and found pandals and stage but not many people were there, not the thousands that I expected at least. There was an information desk on which there were pamphlets about Anna and Jan lokpal bill.

There I also saw Swati Maliwal and Gaurav Bakshi, two people whom I had seen in an online video telling people about Jan lokpal bill and Indian Against Corruption, an NGO which they were a part of. I went over to Swati and told her that I would be available in case she needs a volunteer for anything and also met Gaurav and told him that the online video of him interacting with students was one of the prime reasons I was at Jantar Mantar.

Another half an hour passed and I had nothing to do apart from roaming around. Anna was on the way from India Gate after visiting Raj ghat and the crowd had still not swelled beyond manageable proportions though surprisingly there were no police men in great numbers as there are in many such events. A few but helpful ones were there though.

After I while when no body gave me any work I decided to find work for myself and started to distribute the pamphlets about Anna Hazare and Jan lokpal to the public. Interestingly most of the people there didn't know what Jan lokpal was about and asked me. Even I didn't know the answer! So I sat down and read the pamphlet myself first. Only after I understood what the bill was about did I start to distribute it again, this time also explaining it to the people who asked me about it.

Anna reached Jantar Mantar at about 11:30 am in an open army jeep with Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Swami Agnivesh, a group of bikers, a few cyclists and a large crowd walking behind him. There might have been somewhere around a thousand people in that crowd which came along with Anna and Anna was escorted to the stage directly. At this time I was standing with a sardar who I had just become friends with. His name was Tejindar and he belonged to BJP and is part of it's youth wing but was there in personal capacity.

On the stage Kiran ma'am announced that the fast has started and that Anna will not move from Jantar Mantar until the government accepts to the demand of accepting the proposal of Jan lokpal bill. After that Arvind Kejriwal, Swami Agnivesh and many other people gave speeches. Famous Hindi poet, Dr. Kumar Vishwas anchored the event and kept the crowd entertained with his one-liners.

Anna also gave a speech and talked about the current system, the need of change and how the youth need to come forward. He also talked about his past and gave us a brief introduction of his work in Maharashtra and the army. Anna also talked about how at one point of his life he was contemplating suicide and then he pledged his life to serve the people.

His speech literally shook me. A 73 year man, going on fast-unto-death for his country and here I was, a twenty seven year young man, distributing pamphlets. I can do better than this, I said to my self. I thought over the options I had.

First and most visible option was to sit on fast-unto-death with Anna. I weighted the pro's and con's and in the end decided against it as knowing myself I knew I won't be able to sit idle for long which was something all the anshankari's were required to do.

The second option was to keep distributing pamphlets like I was but by doing that I was not doing justice with my own abilities, so I decided to look for further options.

Then I heard someone talking about a kramik anshan. Kramik means cyclic. So it was like you observe a two day fast, then after five days you again observe a two day fast if Anna is still on fast. So I got myself registered for kramik and at the same time continued with pamphlet distribution.

By five thirty in the evening the crowd started to swell and from six o' clock the sarv-dharm prarthna sabha started. Nitin Dawar, a member of 'The art of living' sang his now famous Jan Lokpal song which became a national anthem for the people demanding Jan Lokpal. Many other songs were sung, prayers were made to the almighty and then there were patriotic songs. That evening on Jantar Mantar I witnessed one of the rare occasions when people from different strata of the society, irrespective of caste, creed and regional identity danced to 'Rang de basatni chola' and sang 'Raghupati raghav raja ram' along with the singer. When a singer sang 'Ae mere watan ke logon' the crowd was mostly silent but their eyes were filled with water.

Apart from a cricket match and 15th Aug or 26 Jan I had never seen such zeal. It struck a chord with me and I along with the friends I had made in the morning, Ankit and Abhishek, danced till 8pm. At 8pm Sri Sri Ravishankar ji addressed the crowd on web conferencing from Germany and pledged full support to Anna.

All of us left Jantar Mantar at about 9:30pm with the conviction of returning the next day. All of us picked some pamphlets and decided to give them to people on road and in metro. After bidding adieu to my friends at Rajiv Chowk I got on a metro to Anand Vihar which is about a mile or so from my home in Vaishali. In the metro I gave pamphlets to a few people but most of them looked at it with dis-interest and then folded it and kept it in their pocket.

A few even told me that what I was doing was useless and India cannot be rid of corruption. All I replied was, 'Let's try at least.' Their words only strengthened my conviction and support for Anna's cause. Now it was no longer only Anna's cause, it was my cause too. I reached home with severe ache in the leg but with a happy heart. That was how my first day under the auspices of Anna came to an end.

(Photo courtesy: Ankit Kakkar)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Of corruption and a lone wager against it!

For the last two years or so (more precisely since the general public started to use RTI effectively) scam after scam has been tumbling out of the government's closet and despite that no concrete action has been taken by the government to bring this raging monster under control.

The government has been sitting on the Lokpal bill for last forty-two years and that also a weak one. They are not willing to implement even a toothless Lokpal let alone a proper law that aims at prosecuting the corrupt.

This is where Anna Hazare came in. Anna is a seventy-eight year social activist from Maharashtra who was instrumental in getting the RTI act passed by the government with it's teeth intact. Anna has decided to sit on a hunger strike unto death for getting the Jan Lokpal bill passed like he did with RTI.

RTI has helped us, the normal citizen know what the government is doing but it doesn't give us the power to get them prosecuted. The time has come to get our right, to stop this monster of corruption that has been keeping us from achieving success as a country.

When people like Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Archbishop of Delhi, Swami Agnivesh, Mehmood Madni, Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Mufti Shamoom Kashmi, etc. join forces you got to take notice.

Yesterday morning when I left my house on way to Jantar Mantar I was just another normal Indian but the experience that I got there has changed me. Anna is not just another political or social activist. He's a living Mahatma Gandhi and in a country where the father of the nation has become synonymous to 'majboori' thanks to the famous lines 'Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi' it is necessary that people like Anna achieve something following the Gandhian way of non-violent action.

I have pledged two days of fast in support of Anna and till he's at Jantar Mantar I'll be there each and every day giving him my support and doing whatever is withing my humble capacity. Hope that the other youngsters of this country also rise and put their weight behind Anna before it's too late.