Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Monday, April 11, 2011

125. Evenings @ Jantar Mantar

From India Gate we return to Jantar Mantar. We are instructed to walk without ‘slogans’. Not exactly Silent March, only no Slogans. I appreciate the wisdom of the organizers. They realize that people are tired. During our March towards India Gate earlier, we had innumerable slogans. Today it is not Candle March but ‘Plate and Spoon’ March – so that the government can hear the ‘voice of people’.

For last 45 minutes we have nonstop chanting of “Vande Maataram”. “Inquilaab Zindaabaad” and “Bhaarat Maataa kee Jay” are the two other popular slogans. One slogan that makes everyone smile is “Sonia Jisakee Mummy Hai, Vaha Sarkaar Nikammee Hai”. Not only youngsters but middle aged women and men are enthusiastically participating in the Protest March.

But as now there are no slogans, people are talking amongst themselves. I am walking alone. I have no one specific to talk to. So I overhear many conversations – to my left and right, behind me, in front of me – everywhere. It is all “off camera”. People do not know that I am listening to them.

A group of college students. One boy says,”You know, this is for the first time I am participating in a Protest March. Always watched in on TV and U Tube. I am feeling great about this.”
One of his friends must have smiled. Because the same voice asks, “Why are you smiling? I am not joking.”
His friend responds, “You talk about Protest March. As far as I remember, this is for the first time I am walking on the road for such a long time. Feeling good about it. There must be many people who have to walk daily. I am trying to imagine their life.”

There is another group of young boys and girls.
One boy emotionally says,”You know, this old man has no family.”
“What do you mean?” asks a girl.
“We all are his family,” argues another boy with fervor.
“Listen yaar! I am saying that he has no grandson, son, daughter, land, estate etc. to take care of. He is not fighting for himself. He is doing it for us – so that we live a better life” – the first boy explains.
“You never said a better thing than this,” his colleagues appreciate him.

And there is another group.
A girls says,”WC celebration was best, but this is bestest.”
“Why?” her friends want to know.
“Actual cricket is played by Sachin, Yuvi, MS, Zak, Gauti, Bhajji and others. We celebrate their victory, but our contribution is zero in that. But here we are actually contributing to a national cause,” she explains.
“Don’t forget that those 300 people on hunger strike are the real contributors. We are just walking,” a down to earth fellow reminds them.
“Sure, they are the real heroes. But we are also doing a squirrels’ job. This is a memorable moment of my life,” someone adds and everybody agrees – even the down to earth fellow!

One more group.
“Let us join Jail Bharo on 13th,” a girl suggests.
“What if they really put us in Jail? Will the police beat us? Will the college rusticate us?” another girl is certainly frightened.
“Come on yaar! Police will do nothing of that sort. There would be thousands of people – more than the jails can accommodate!” one boy explains.
Another boy motivates the group, “We have read about Bhagat Sing and other freedom fighters. They died for us. Now this is our time, our moment, and our responsibility. Let us not run away.”
“Yes, we will do it” they all say in one voice.

I see a middle aged woman walking alone. I speak to her. She is overwhelmed by the presence of youngsters – their number as well as their enthusiasm. She adds, “I appreciate and enjoy this atmosphere. Delhi crowds almost always misbehave with women. But here they are taking care of girls and women. If someone touches or pushes by mistake, he immediately says “sorry” and he means it. This is how a good cause, a good environment changes people.”

I completely agree with her. As you all know, at Jantar Mantar veteran social activist Anna Hajare along with hundreds of volunteers is (was) on fast unto death demanding Jan Lokpal Bill. I am in the midst of crowds; all unknown faces; for hours in the evenings. I don’t at all feel insecure even at 10.00 in the night. There is such a “feel good” wave around. This is a different Delhi altogether than I have experienced so far.


A lot has been written about and a lot more would be written about: Anna Hajare, Lokpal and Jan Lokpal; Role of Civil Society and Parliament; Core Group of Jantar Mantar; How Government read the situation wrongly; How people from all walks of life participated spontaneously; Gandhiji’s way of Satyagraha; How people have lost trust in politicians; Strategies of this movement; Media Campaign; Institutionalization of democratic processes etc.The discussion and debate has begun.


I would be guilty of telling you half truth unless I share the other side of this rosy picture.

People gather in large numbers at Jantar Mantar to support hundreds on hunger strike. And what do they (at least some of them) do?

After shouting few slogans and capturing themselves in digital cameras, they turn to food stalls. They shamelessly consume food. They are here to support people on hunger strike; can’t they control their hunger for few hours? What do they mean by support?

The food stall garbage bins are overflowing. Nobody cares about maintaining hygiene surrounding the people on hunger strike. This dirt might increase health risks – but nobody is bothered about it. The volunteers must be working overnight to clean the area – is it their job?

Almost everyone has a camera. Many are engaged in capturing only themselves. Will they still come if cameras are not allowed?

Slogan shouting has become an unquestionable and the only symbol of patriotism. Even while Anna Hajare is speaking to journalists (open press conference), the slogan brigade can’t keep quiet. Organizers request crowd to make a way for carrying (on stretcher) a seriously ill person on hunger strike. A young man shouts, “Bhaarat Maataa kee...” I tap him on shoulder and tell him what the announcement is. He says “sorry” and walks away. If he can’t shout, he is not interested.

One group is shouting “Man Mohan Sing, Bhaarat Chodo” – without understanding the fact that the Prime Minister is as much Indian as they are. Another slogan says, “Bhrashtaachaariyonko Golee Maaro”. When some of us respond to it by saying, “let us not use violent language. Non violence is the fundamental principle of this movement”; the group moves away in another direction.

Some youths are throwing empty water bottles on the road and have to be reminded that garbage bins are to be used.

A journalist accuses Anna Hajare of ‘blackmailing the government.” She clearly lacks common sense. To make such a baseless accusation with so much of confidence; in front of thousands of supporters is not wise. The crowd spontaneously hoots at her; does not allow her to complete the sentence. It is another matter that Anna Hajare answers her question. Agreed, journalists are not Gods. But the behavior of the crowd cannot be justified. What kind of society we want to build, where we are not ready to even listen?

I have some doubts about the spontaneous mass participation.

Is it another kind of mass hysteria? Instead of “Sachin, Sachin” now the whole nation seems to be shouting “Anna Hajare, Anna Hajare”. There is the same madness of making Anna Hajare into a kind of God, but we would abuse him any moment. The cause of the fight is superficially understood – as if it in only the responsibility of the old man! People seem to think that Jan Lokpal Bill magically would change everything overnight! That is such a distance from reality! For many it seems of another kind of entertaining event; something to get excited about; something to discuss.

Joining “India Against Corruption” movement is very easy. Give a ‘missed call’ (no expenditure for you), click a button on Facebook or Twitter and you belong to the movement. If you can come to Jantar Mantar or any other spot and join a Candle March- well and good. I did all this and understood the hollowness of it. I found that this was the easiest way of contributing, becoming a part of history making epoch. However experience has taught me that ‘to belong’ to some idea, to some cause is much more demanding. It is not an easy path. You cannot commit to a cause without giving your comforts, your luxuries. You cannot change the society without changing yourselves first. But here it was all very easy. It is not just a matter of participation but matter of life values. What values the crowds have when they support this movement?

If it turns out to be a real fight, will the numbers sustain? Will the enthusiasm remain? Would the unity be visible? (As it is there are obvious fractions in the movement!). The police force was alert but not harassing. If State decides to handle the situation with violent means (thankfully it did not happen this time); will the leadership be able to motivate people to resist in non-violent way? What if things don’t remain easy and long term battle is required? What if we have to really renounce, to give up something to contribute?

Time will answer these questions.

This very crowd was in “One Day Maataram” mode few days ago. The shift from “One Day Maataram” to “Vande Maataram” is appallingly overwhelming. I feel joyous about it. I feel proud about it. I feel encouraged.

For a moment I leave those ugly moments behind, ignore them for a while. And I remember hundreds of inspiring moments. The “off camera” glimpses speak volumes about the strength, determination, commitment and courage of nameless and faceless citizens. What they need is trustworthy, honest and creative leadership. Will it happen?

Will the paradigm shift remain with us? Will the commitment infuse enthusiasm in us? Will the sense of duty and responsibility prevail? Will the sensitivity and responsiveness sustain? Though I am not blindly euphoric about it, the evenings at Jantar Mantar have certainly enhanced my optimism. I never believed in ‘India Shining’ propaganda. But I guess India is certainly awakening again. That is what evenings at Jantar Mantar promise me.


  1. As someone so far away and only seeing things on television, this was a wonderful read. There were a few streaks of cynicism in the overall impression that I got while watching the stuff. But I feel encouraged, that it is a great start. The most important thing will be how the road gets defined in time....

  2. very candid post! I felt the leaders of this movement had great opportunity to appeal the huge no of supporters not to be part of corruption. Discussion on what values we should practice as a nation was needed but it was just reduced to corruption of politicians.

  3. Yes Savitaa, I too believe that India is waking up from a deep slumber!! What if we are not doing everything right this time but alteast a lot of us have taken the first step!! Getting out of our houses and doing something! I believe this could very well turn out to be the first step in long marathon to clean up the mess that WE as a society have created! God bless all!

  4. A balanced perspective.

    In my opinion, this is a beginning. It has both a halo and is hollow. How it will be viewed by future generations depends on what we do from here on.

    And by 'do' i mean far beyond clicking a like button or giving a missed call ! :)

  5. Corruption – intellectual / monetary / moral / dogmatic / power / profit / adulteration – name anything – has now become National Dharma. Hence we want Leader/s – not Autonomy that is, in other words, Responsibility!
    Anna Hajare rightly said he has two point agenda, 1- Abolish corruption and 2- Decentralization of Power.
    But who will be ready for Decentralization of Power?
    Leadership is new name for old wine called Feudal Master of yesteryear in a new bottle named Democracy!!

  6. Surangatai, thanks for your kind words. I think it is as always the choice we have to make .. whether to be cynic or to be an optimist!

    Preeti, yes, there are many missed opportunities in the whole process. The focus on politician's corruptions was obvious in the present context, but we all know that corruption is matter of opportunity in India. But nevertheless ..

    Jai, if WE do it together with proper understanding of the cause (and the effect), it will be one of the wonders. Let us hope and act for it.

    Kavi, yes, HALO and HOLLOW are the right words to describe the two extremes. We need to adopt 'beyond clicking' lifestyle to make the change - indeed!

    Remijee, you are right again - we are a feudal democracy! We always want someone on whom we can put all our responsibility so that we can live carefree. Decentralization of Power seems to be a long way to go!

  7. nice read i was part of the same event in chennai...though the camera clicks, some really immature kids without understanding the real meaning of wht they are into are there it was an amazing feel...to shout baarat matha ke jai itself was amazing....nothing we were discussing expect country, i am sure u had the feel tooo......though bad instances are there this really gave us a chance to perceive something different

  8. Real test of Lokapal Bill is still ahead! Now only teething troubles! Once in whatever avatar it appears, see how the vested interests hijack it!
    I don’t join the crowd, but surely watch what is happening. And I’m lovin it

  9. the critics, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, for me too, being part of the slogan shouting was an amazing experience. Never mind about some people who participate without understanding the cause .. there time too would come - hopefully!

    Remijee,yes, it a long way to go!


Thanks for your Feedback.