Year: 1987. Place: RaaLegaNa Siddhee, a small village in Maharashtra. Even then Shree ANNaa Hajare was very famous, though not surrounded by media – like he is today. During this year I had opportunity to meet ANNaa many times. We wanted to organize a Youth Camp in his village. I went to RaaLegaNa for getting permission, then couple of visits for the preparation of the camp and then stayed there for eight days along with the youth participants. I met ANNaa a number of times during that period. He was in RaaLegaNa during that week. Everyday he used to interact with the participants for an hour or so. He was always there – around us, and even when we had a trivial problem he was there for us. I could go to him anytime and talk at leisure. He was soft, kind, never raising his voice and never looking irritated. He always listened to people with calm and peace. He did not carry the aura of “I know All’ or “I have done lot of work” – which would have been obvious for him given his name and fame then. However at the same time he unmistakably conveyed that he was not the kind of man to easily surrender, he was not the one who feared obstacles.
We stayed in RaaLegaNa like pampered children. Actually we were so young and had not done anything substantial in life, but ANNaa looked after us. He won the hearts of all youngsters in our camp by his simplicity, his renunciation, his softness and his work. Generally I do not touch anyone’s feet, but as I remember, while leaving RaaLegaNa, I saluted ANNaa in traditional way.
Year: 2011. Place: New Delhi. It is morning of Sunday, 28th August. Naturally, the attention of the entire nation is here today. Media has already brought the news to the nooks and corners that ANNaa Hajaare is breaking his fast at 10.00. The crowd wants to observe this historic moment as closely as possible. In the search of front rows, people have gathered very early here in Raamaleelaa Maidaana. Last Saturday, I had spent about half in hour in queue, to avoid it; I am here very early in the morning.
New Delhi Metro Station is not much crowded – not as I expected. There are people – mainly passengers reaching Delhi. Outside the station, in Kamala Market area, city buses are ready to go. New passengers have a confused look about which bus to take. The scene is like any other railway station in any other city on a normal day. For a moment I think that I have alighted down at a wrong metro station. But next moment, I see young children and women selling Gandhi topee and tri-color in various shapes and sizes. They are aware that ANNaa is going to break fast; they are in a hurry to sell whatever stock they have. The road is full of food vendors. If someone does not know about India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign, one would be tempted to think that there is some kind of political rally.
Last Saturday, I had to be in queue for about half an hour, so even though it is Sunday, I have reached here rather early. Fortunately I enter the venue just within five minutes. Half of the ground is still muddy. So when I read next day the crowd estimates, I realize how media exaggerates – in good moments as well as in bad moments. Only when one is physically present during such events, one can understand the exaggeration.
Raamaleelaa ground is large enough- so even when it is half filled at eight in the morning, I am sure there are thousands of people. When I am trying to find a spot, I am told that there is a separate sitting arrangement for women. I think this arrangement would save me from being pushed by men in the crowd – however when ANNaa appears on the stage, the crowd erupts with emotions and the bamboo barricade between men’s section and women’s section is brought down and I have to face the pulls and pushes of the crowd. But it is to happen about an hour later.
The atmosphere is highly charged with patriotic emotions. Patriotic songs, slogans and the tri color make it very exciting. Volunteers are at their best initially – if someone stands, they immediately approach and request the person to sit down. The crowd seems to be self-disciplined at the beginning. But now a days people are not used to 'cross legged' sitting. So around nine, people start to express their restlessness. When the television cameras move towards crowds; all the discipline disappears within a moment. The next hour is to show me how women and men crave for ‘two minute’s fame’. The way women push each other (I am sure men did the same too) to capture the attention of cameramen, is disgusting. They are dancing, shouting slogans and trying to speak in the microphone. When the drinking water pouch (of course free) arrives on the scene, it almost creates a stampede. Whatever maybe the event, people cannot easily overcome their selfishness. It was only the beginning of the madness of the crowds.
When Anna appears on the stage; the crowd becomes uncontrollable. It is a moment which tells me that ‘Jana Sansada’ (Parliament of People) would be as good and bad as ‘Sansada’ (Parliament of elected representatives). Some of us are trying to tell others, “Please, sit down, from this distance we cannot see Anna clearly, but if we all sit down, we can at least have a glimpse of the stage”- but to no avail. The crowd exhibits typical Indian mentality – ‘if she is not sitting down, why should I?’ – is the question every one of them asks. Nobody realizes that we need to follow rules even when others are not following, we need to set example, and we need to do certain things not because others demand but because we believe in it as core value of life. Even if strong Lokpal bill is passed, there is no guarantee that such people would not bribe and try to get undue benefits. While watching the people around, I felt extremely desolated.
Mr. Arvind Kejariwal begins his speech by ‘thanks giving’. In the last few months, I have read a lot about him and I am eager to listen to him. However, I am completely disillusioned. I mean even if I don’t like I can understand ‘Thanking Media’. But when Mr. Kejariwal said: “We thank Delhi Police. Some of them were on duty in uniform during the day and the in the evening after their duty was over, they joined us.” (Not exactly in these words, but meaning almost the same). I think Mr. Kejariwal is bit immature in declaring this. I hope those police personnel do not have to face internal inquiry!
Everybody seems to have forgotten those 30 persons who are also fasting at Raamaleelaa with ANNaa. Leave informing the crowds about the names of these 30 persons and appreciating them – at the last moment they are mentioned collectively and hurriedly (my guess is it happened when someone reminded Mr. Kejariwal about them). It is said that heroes are forgotten by later generations, but here they are invisible even in the present. The clarification that “we never said all political leaders are bad’ is amusing. That the IAC team had shared the stage on the earlier evening with few political leaders gave a clear signal about the change of mind of IAC team.
Mr. Kejariwal appeals the crowds to ‘gather at India Gate in the evening to celebrate’ – I am smiling at that. What victory? Whose victory? I think Mr. Kejariwal declared this due to the habit of last 11 days. Otherwise both Mr. Kejariwal and Ms. Bedi know fully well how the power circle in Delhi works. If I say that they do not understand the meaning of process in the last 4-5 days, I would doubt their intellectual capacity.
The crowds are mostly relieved that ANNaa is finally breaking fast. I wish colleagues of ANNaa had the opportunity to listen to the voices of the crowds. Amongst themselves people are discussing the whole issue and the common feeling expressed and agreed to is: Good that ANNaa finally is breaking his fast. Otherwise the ambitious people around him might have killed him. One person even said,” It is good that ANNaa finally realized that whether Lokpal bill is passed or not; there is no point in giving life for phaltu (useless) people like us.” Actually I feel that the issue of corruption, Lokpal are not on people’ mind there – there is only concern about ANNaa’s health. Some people are happy to find out that ANNaa is speaking with youth like energy and others are surprised at that.
For ANNaa’s ‘break fast’ two young girls – Simarn and Ikrah are invited on the stage. Mr. Kejariwal takes pains to tell Media that Simarn comes from Dalit family and Ikrah lives in Turkman Gate area in Delhi (meaning: she is Muslim). I am aghast that the IAC campaign is ‘using’ seven year innocent kids in this way. Till then I had known only politicians using caste and religion as identities to show their ‘mass base’. Do these kids know: what is corruption? What is Parliament? What is a Bill? What is Jan Lokpal? They are too young to know and they are not responsible for the mess created by adults in the society. Mentioning Dr. Ambedkar to reach out to Dalit communities is again a political trick. Does IAC mean that Dr. Ambedkar belongs only to Dalits? Let us stop assuming that Dalit are fools and they can be made happy by just mentioning Dr. Ambedkar’s name! During that morning I see an illustration of how people (movements, campaigns) compromise when they try to establish claims of representation and numbers!
The crowd is so chaotic that neither the volunteers nor Mr. Kejariwal can control it. Mr. Kejariwal has to say: “If you do not keep quiet, ANNaa will continue his fast. He was fasting for last many days; he can fast for few more hours.” The statement shows how helpless Mr. Kejariwal is and what kind of ‘supporters’ have gathered there! So, some people do not capture the moment of ANNaa breaking his fast. Even after ANNaa’s speech is over, people are asking, “but when is he going to break his fast?”
ANNaa’s speech is extensively covered by Media, so I am not going to repeat it here. While ANNaa is speaking crowds are moving out of the pendal and they are replaced by new groups coming in. Some of those who are moving out , are turning to queues – one for ANNaa kee Rasoi (where free food is distributed) and other for ANNaa kee mupht chai (where free tea is distributed). I am wondering about the idea – when masses are coming to support ‘fasting for cause’, what is the point in providing ‘free tea and food’ for them? These supporters are not interested in the next steps of the campaign, the future direction and strategies of the movement. They are engaged in slogans –the louder, the better! I see most people – either slogan-ing, on their mobile phones, weaving tri-color, talking with friends, taking snaps – I wonder who is listening to ANNaa. I am pushed backward by the crowd and by the time ANNaa finishes his speech I am at the rear end of the pendal.
I realize that ANNaa did not say ‘Vande Maataram’ even once in his speech. During his Jantar Mantar fast in April, one evening I met a group of Muslim youths who were chanting Vande Maataram. I spoke to the group about it and they said,” Hama bhee to isa mittee se pale hue hai” (we too are brought up by this land!) – I still remember their fervor and their conviction. Equating Vande Maataram with a group of Hindus and avoiding to say Vande Maatarm to appease other group – is it a good strategy? By such act, we are pushing youths in the control of religious fanaticism- which is equally dangerous as corruption. In this way, the youth enthusiasm will die even before it strengthens.
Whether the person I met in RaaLegaNa Siddhee twenty five years ago is the same? Or has ANNaa changed – I keep on asking myself. In some ways, he remains unchanged. Simple, soft speaking, determined, naïve, ready to renounce his comforts (and his life in this case) for others, facing opposition with sternness. These are ANNaa’s qualities – many of us revere him for that. I find no reason to disagree.
However, there is also 'other' ANNaa emerging. Surrounded by the camera, away from people, the man sitting on the stage seems different. ANNaa: who accepts ‘I am ANNaa’ printed on caps and T shirts; who allows his photograph to be printed in the middle of tri-color on T Shirts; who calmly listens to the song eulogizing him; who is sharing stage with people who are accused of corruption (I know they were representing government, so what?); once he used to speak a lot about how he was inspired by Swami Vivekananda – today he does not mention him. Why? I feel that this ANNaa in the midst of thousands of people is a strange person, I do not know him. Whatever relationship I had with him and with his cause, and which I had nurtured, is destroyed in a moment. I feel completely away from him.
I need to go to RaaLegaNa again. In 1987 I asked him many questions; I would ask him all these questions again. I hope as in 1987, he would answer me calmly, thoughtfully and with smile. Before this dialogue happens, I should not change my opinion about ANNaa. The person is at her/his best where s/he is rooted. Raamaleelaa Maidaana and the crowds are not the best times and place to find that old ANNaa again!