Last post I shared some photos of demonstrators at India Gate on the evening anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare walked out of Tihar jail to begin his public fast to demand a strong anti-corruption bill be passed by the Indian parliament. Here’s a quick video of some of the chants. If you watch very carefully you will see that magical moment when one chant leader is replaced by another.
Since then I have been witnessing Anna-fever all over the city. Huge flags and loud slogans have been pouring out of trucks, cars and autorickshaws. Last Saturday I witnessed as group of men rallied – flags, chants and all – their way from one metro line to another. Half of each day’s newspaper has been dedicated to the story with articles on every aspect of Hazare’s health and the government’s ongoing efforts to get in front of the story for once.On Friday evening I hopped on a bus to Ramlila Grounds to spend a few moments at ground zero of Hazare’s movement, the space where he has been sitting and fasting, surrounded by his advisers, supporters and the media.
Getting off the bus, I followed the crowd through the streets of Old Delhi until I found my self in an orderly line that I knew must lead into the grounds. Volunteers were handing out bananas and small plastic packets of drinking water.
Many have described Hazare’s movement to be primarily of the middle class, but one could see the poor of Old Delhi taking part as well. Many were selling different versions of Hazare’s white Nehru cap with the words “I am Anna” printed on them. There were young men circulating the crowd offering to paint the tricolor (orange, white and green) on your face for five rupees. Further away a couple young boys were shrieking with laughter as they squeezed drinking water packets at each other.
Metal detectors and pat-downs by distracted police officers are a common feature of life in Delhi. You can’t take a ride on the metro, watch a movie, enter a mall or temple without one. By the time the line had taken me to the line of metal detectors I was already stuffing free banana number three into my mouth. Just then thick white smoke started surrounding us to give the whole scene a much more authentic protest look and feel. Rather than from tear gas, the smoke was coming from two bicycles with small fumigation machines. The demonstration had been getting some bad press for the sanitary conditions.
Now in the grounds, I followed the sound of the loud speakers across a muddy expanse populated by streams of people navigating through the large puddles. Compared to the rest of India, Delhi gets barely any rain but with a total lack of drainage, Delhi can flood with the best of Indian cities. Half an hour of heavy rain can leave behind days of massive puddles.
It wasn’t long before I was in the thick of the crowd and finally setting eyes on the 74 year old Gandhian activist sitting below a blown up photograph of the original Gandhian (Gandhi). Nothing between me and the big man but a moat full of media people and smokey Delhi air.
There was a similar spirit of fun and camaraderie among demonstrators that I had seen earlier at India Gate. Children, youth, middle-aged and elderly people were all there and there was even a section penned off for women, just like what you can find on a Delhi metro train. Hazare sat alone on the stage as others screamed into the microphone in Hindi, occasionally inspiring the crowd to chant ‘Long live the revolution! Long live Anna Hazare!’
After an afternoon out with a friend the next day (Saturday) we saw a crowd of young men leaning in to watch a small television in a textile shop. The government had held an emergency parliamentary vote on Hazare’s version of the anti-corruption bill and passed it. He hadn’t eaten in 12 days but there he was on TV giving a raucous speech. I asked one of the guys watching if he had eaten anything yet and he said that apparently he was going to hold off until Sunday morning.
Since then he ate breakfast checked into a private hospital here in Delhi where he is reportedly being attended by 36 doctors. Now that they have defeated corruption, Anna’s team has announced their next project – they want Indians to have the right to recall Ministers of Parliament mid-term.
This whole story has raised to many important questions over the past few months related to democracy, the role of institutions and of the culture of corruption. Along with constant updates on Anna and the government’s response to his movement, the papers have also been providing a steady stream of op-ed on the story. Everyone has an opinion on it, but mine is still under construction. Might have more on that here later.