SEVENTY-four year old Gandhian Anna Hazare shook the entire nation. Incensed at the massive scale of corruption and denial of right to protest, millions of people took to streets across the country on August 16. The public response in Delhi was so spontaneous that a large number of people, who left home for office or college in the morning, joined Anna’s agitation instead of reaching their destination.
“I left for hospital in the morning, but turned the steering of my car to Chhatrasal Stadium immediately after getting the news that Anna has been arrested. I phoned my wife not to wait, as I may be in the jail with Anna today. I spent my whole day in the temporary prison of Chhatrasal Stadium. What forced me to join this agitation is the dictatorship of the government. I feel Anna is here to liberate us from this third grade and corrupt system,” said Dr Rajiv Saini, a senior consultant in a leading hospital of Delhi.
The Congress-led central government did everything to crush the agitation—blocked all the roads leading to Jayaprakash Narayan Park, the epicentre of Anna’s hunger strike, arrested Anna and his team members from their respective homes itself and tried to defame the agitation by making various false allegations—people from all walks of life, filled the streets holding tiranga and shouting prominently two slogans—Vande Mataram and Bharatmata ki Jai. “Now I could realise why these two slogans made the people die for the nation during the freedom struggle,” said Rajesh Kochar, a second year student of Khalsa College while participating in the march at India Gate.
Wearing Gandhi caps, which had “I am Anna”, the protesters came from diverse backgrounds and included a large number of youth, students, women, senior citizens, freedom fighters and even eunuchs. They carried the placards like ‘Parliament is not supreme, People of India are supreme’, ‘We want corruption-free India’, ‘Uproot corruption or we will uproot this government’, We respect Parliament, we hate Parliamentarians’, Anna, we won’t step back now, this corrupt government has to bow’, ‘Arrest of Anna is murder of democracy’, Wake up Sonia-PM, you cannot make us fool’, ‘15 August we gained freedom, 16 August we lost it’, Anna wins, India wins’, etc.
When the police reached Anna Hazare’s residence at Supreme Enclave in Mayur Vihar to arrest him on August 16, people did not let it take Anna away. The policemen had to surmount a human wall of nearly 2 km drenched in a steady drizzle to accomplish their task. Wherever the police took Anna in the day, the crowed followed him. Before being arrested, Anna appealed to people to “keep the protest going as this is just the beginning”. This arrest basically sparked off the protest of unprecedented magnitude across the country.
The most remarkable feature of this protest was its spontaneity. Although it was raining in Delhi since early morning, over 50,000 people reached Chhatrasal Stadium by afternoon. When the Stadium was full to its capacity and the police refused to arrest more protesters, they sat on the Ring Road and reverberated the atmosphere with slogans like Vande Mataram, Bharatmata ki Jai, Sarkari Lokpal dhokha hai abhi bacha lo mauka hai, Anna ko riha karo, varna sharm se doob maro, Anna nahin ye Aandhi hai, desh ka doosara Gandhi hai, Congress ki kya pehchan, bhrashtachar aur atyachar, Manmohan Singh jisaka tau hai, vo sarkar bikau hai, Sonia jisaki mammi hai, vo sarkar nikammi hai, Gali-gali mein shor hai, Sonia Gandhi chor hai, Bhrastachar mitega kab, janamanas jagega jab, etc.
Earlier in the morning, protesters, including former IPS officer Kiran Bedi and Shanti Bhushan, were brought to the Stadium after being detained from Rajghat and some other locations. It was followed by hundreds of buses full of protesters who smiled at the police but vent their anger on the Congress-led UPA government. They volunteered to go inside the Stadium despite the police ruling before noon that ‘you can go in, but can’t exit’. “The agitation will not stop. We will render full support to Anna Hazare till the Government agrees to constitute a strong Lokpal. Corruption has made our life miserable and we have to get rid of it at any cost now,” said Kishore Chandra, a resident of Mukherjee Nagar who along with his neighbours was at the Stadium since morning. “I came here without informing my parents. So, I gave the police a wrong number so that they cannot call up my parents,” said Anamika, a student of Delhi University while shouting slogans inside the Stadium. “An elderly person is fighting for the future of our children. Why should I not join him,” asked Sunita Jain, a housewife from Gandhi Nagar.
Delhi Police had made full arrangement to stop people reaching Jayaprakash Narayan Park, Rajghat, Jantar Mantar and other possible places of protest. Over 5000 policemen were stationed at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg alone. In the morning, the rain as well as the police did deter a few protesters, but the diehards tricked in twos and threes and gathered at Park from where they were detained. At Pragati Maidan, thousands of people gathered in the evening and marched down the road towards Supreme Court.
Over 20,000 people gathered outside Tihar Jail where Anna was detained. They took out a candle march in the evening and then remained standing there throughout the night. “I am not in a pub, mom. I am at Tihar,” a teenage girl cried over her phone. Even the pesky mosquitoes couldn’t take the sting out of people’s enthusiastic slogans until morning when a fresh wave of Anna fans descended there. “I am here to support this great cause. Government must accept Anna’s demands,” said Surendra Gutpa, a school teacher standing outside Tihar Jail. Shaken over the strong sentiments of people, the police, however, announced to release Anna at night of August 16 itself, but he refused to come out from the jail till he is granted unconditional permission for hunger strike.
The protest witnessed open support from Baba Ramdev’s Bharat Swabhiman Trust, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Arya Samaj, RSS and hundreds of other organisations. But all had only one identity “I am Anna” and tiranga was their symbol. Baba Ramdev, on August 17, met the President of India requesting to accept the demands of Anna Hazare. Later, he went to Tihar Jail to meet Anna. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Guruji also met Anna in Tihar the same day.
Till afternoon of August 16, Congress leaders tried their best to dismiss the agitation saying that a few thousand people did not represent the ‘will’ of the nation, but by evening the shaken government and the party were forced to admit that it was more than a mere numbers’ game. It also alleged a ‘foreign hand’ behind the Anna campaign which only agitated the protesters further.
The protest on second day (August 17) was stronger than the previous day. Students boycotted classes, advocates did not attend the courts and people took leave from their offices. Seeing low attendance in the offices, the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram threatened the government employees with severe punishment if any of them joined the Anna agitation. The number of people in Chhatrasal Stadium doubled on second day.
In the evening, over 60,000 people assembled at India Gate and marched up to Jantar Mantar. The march choked the roads in and around India Gate, Janpath, Parliament Street and brought the traffic in Lutyen’s Delhi to a halt. The sea of people was beyond one’s imagination. Mothers joined the march with tiny children tugging on to their saris and duppatas, the elderly braving their creaking bones, students looking for a brighter future and professionals fed up with ‘greasing palms to move government files’. Shouting slogans like Mein bhi Anna, tu bhi Anna, ab to sara desh hai Anna, Ye andar ki baat hai police hamare saath hai, Desh ke yuva sadakon par hain, tum kahan ho Rahul Gandhi? Vo sarkar nikammi hai jisame Rahul ki mammi hai, etc. People, especially the youth, coined their own slogans, wrote them on a simple paper and joined the march to be a part of the ‘revolution’.
“Today I took half-day leave just to join this protest, as I didn’t want to miss this historical revolution,” said Dr Alka Tyagi, a lecturer of English literature in Dayal Singh College. Medical Students from Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) joined the protest in their uniform itself. “I came here directly from my class, as I feel the cure of corruption is must before completing the studies,” said Pallava, a final year student of MAMC while carrying a placard displaying ‘Cure for cancer-corruption: Anna, SOS’.
Though, Delhi Police refused permission of hunger strike to Anna Hazare, it allowed some Congress leaders to stage a dharna at Jantar Mantar demanding hanging of the killers of Rajiv Gandhi. When the protesters saw the Congress leaders staging this dharna, they irked and started shouting slogans against Congress leaders. The atmosphere became very tense, but immediately a group of Anna supporters formed a human wall to protect those Congress leaders. “We did it because we don’t want our agitation to become violent at all,” said an Anna supporter.
One more interesting feature of the agitation was that lakhs of people who could not reach Chhatrasal Stadium, Tihar Jail or India Gate, took out marches in the streets of their own colonies. There was hardly any colony in Delhi where such marches were not taken out. Similar reports were received from all parts of the country including the remote areas.
The agitation proved to be a jan andolan (mass movement) in the real sense, as in all the protest marches there was no identifiable leader and the self-disciplined public was the vanguard. One more fact is that lakhs of people carried tricolour in their hands but not a single incident of insulting the tricolour was reported from any part of the country. In fact, tiranga again proved to be the source of energy for the agitators. “Whenever we felt tired, we took up the tiranga in our hands and started shouting slogans. It not only refreshed us but also energised with renewed vigour to fight till the government bows down,” said Avinash Gupta standing outside Tihar Jail since three days.
Till the time of going to press, Anna Hazare had reached Ramlila Grounds. He left Tihar Jail in a large procession on August 19 and reached Ramlila Maidan after paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat.