Monday, August 29, 2011

The thousands at Ramlila Maidan

Here were people who had come with anger, with hope and with expectation. They were angry because they had taken the daily frustrations of living in this country as a given. That you have to pay a bribe to get a ration card, that state subsidized food is sold at high prices, that you have to pay to get into medical college, that people who worked less hard could pay their way into medical college. They had laughed it away. It happens only in India.
Suddenly, here was a man who assured them that it was alright to be angry. A man who allowed them to be angry. A quote I read recently makes sense in this context :

“If you don’t have self-esteem, you will hesitate to do anything in your life. You will hesitate to report a rape. You will hesitate to defend yourself when you are discriminated against because of your race, your sexuality, your size, your gender. You will hesitate to vote; you will hesitate to dream. For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution, and our revolution is long overdue.”— Margaret Cho

Anna Hazare gave them this self-esteem. The people were angry and they were hopeful. “What makes you think the Jan Lokpal bill, just another piece of legislation, just like the others we have, will change this country?,” I asked all the 80 odd people I spoke to. The answers were varied and colourful but in essence – there were two types.

Type one: “This is Anna’s bill, not the government bill.”
Type two: “No problem can disappear completely. At least 70% corruption will go.”
Anna is the icon, the go-to God, the sacrosanct Krishna they have waited for. Santosh Chaudhury, a farmer from Darbhanga in his thirties, believes Anna has returned as an incarnation of Krishna. A follower of Baba Ramdev, he has been coming since April. “Yada yada hi dharmasya… glanirbhavati bharata…,” he quotes with great flourish. (Roughly, when there is too much sin in the world, Krishna will return to save it.)

Faith and religion were magnetic words that drew people by the thousands, and it buoyed the other important word—patriotism. Inquilab Zindabad (Glory to the revolution) was at best a quaint phrase reserved for Hindi movies or smaller, less televised revolutions. But at Ground Zero, Hazare, farmers, college students, middle class, lower middle class, wealthy designer wear clad men ,women and school children were chanting it together.
People were thirsty for a revolution.
People like myself – people from the middle and lower middle class had studied Gandhi in History class. They had seen Bollywood films in which heroes fall down and surrender to the police/to a higher power for the country. Where people die for the country to be glorified forever. They cheered to songs from Lagaan, Swades and Rang De Basanti.

People had expectations too. They expected to be heard. They had seen it all play out on TV. TV was finally talking about them. Their day to day problems – not being issued a ration card, etc were getting a sounding board in the national media. All you had to do was walk around with a notebook. (There is also the subtle class marker which identifies you as a journalist.) People came to you and said, this is me, I am from here, I came from there and I am angry with the government, they haven’t done a damn thing right. Shaheen waited three years to enter medical school because of corruption. An 85-year old man from Punjab had seen the British go, the world around him transform and he was deeply disappointed. Twenty two year old Suraj from Allahbad didn’t want to pay to get a government job.
Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, is the young hero and hero for the young. He tells the audience how the Government was trying to deny them their rights, how it played games and was trying to force Team Hazare to surrender. The scenes from those inspiring movies replayed in audiences’ minds when Kejriwal spoke.
“Doston, yeh sarkaar hamse kehti hai ki…(Friends, this government tells us that)…,” is the way he starts every line while telling the crowd about the discussions with the government. “Kya ham yeh maan lein…? (Can we accept this?),” he asks like a seasoned political campaigner and a collective ‘nahi’ is followed by another round of “Inquilab Zindabad.”
He then tells them how the government mistreated the Anna’s representatives. The fuse had been lit. Ministers Pranab Mukherjee and Salman Khursheed know the rest. The media rounded them up on behalf of the crowd at Ramlila Maidan.

The crowd at Ramlila Maidan came to you and asked you to write down its story. In front of the Prime Minister’s house, when the all party meeting was happening, a meeting in which talks would fail, a few protestors managed to sneak in. Roads had been blocked for atleast 4 kilometres around the residence. Only the media was allowed. The media had set up camp, with a row of black obedient tripods focussed on the white house. Nothing happened for a while. Vilasrao Deshmukh zipped by the car and the journalists awoke like birds fluttering at a stone.
Finally, a group of women and one or two men came in sloganeering. An alert camera man said to one of the women, “Madam, idhar hi kar lejiye,” Madam, please protest right here – where I have set up.
The women, the men they performed for the camera. The politicians were inside talking politics. Some of them slipped away. One man fell on the ground and said Vande Mataram many times even as the police dragged him away in the police van, to drop him off at Ramlila Maidan, the legal site for protest.

Images from Tehelka.
Some of this material has been used in my stories in Tehelka.

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