Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar tries to pep up the sagging spirits of Anna's supporters
Amid concerns for Anna Hazare's health, disappointment was writ large on the faces of his supporters over the decision to adjourn the Lokpal Bill debate in Parliament for Saturday. Supporters could be seen huddled in groups at the sprawling Maidan complaining that it would be a difficult task to get politicians to pass a comprehensive anti-corruption bill.
With his indefinite fast entering its 11th day on Friday, Anna made only a few appearances on stage leaving it to his core group members and a host of other activists to address the crowd and pep up their spirits.
Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar came up on stage in the afternoon to brief the crowd on the developments in Parliament and her views on Rahul Gandhi's speech. Noticing the silence in a section of the crowd, barring the youngsters several of whom continued to chant slogans and dance to the rhythm of drumbeats, the indefatigable leader of several people's movements made a valiant attempt and said: “Like our eyes are on Parliament, don't forget that the parliamentarians' eyes are set on the sea of humanity here. We have conducted our movement till now in a non-violent manner with full faith in democracy. Not since the freedom struggle and Jayaprakash Narayan's Navanirman Andolan have so many people come out to protest and lifted the prestige of our democracy.”
Ms. Patkar's speech did the trick with the crowd erupting in shouts of “Jan Lokpal Bill Paarit Karo”. Nearly a hundred metres from the stage where she spoke, a group of farmers from near Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, however, could not overcome their scepticism.
“If Anna had broken his fast after the appeal of Manmohan Singh, Sushma Swaraj and the Lok Sabha Speaker, he would have been betrayed. I doubt if they will reach a decision by Saturday,” said Dharambir Singh, one of the farmers.
However, many youngsters could be seen rushing to encircle a drummer and dancing energetically. Others could be seen eager to give interviews to journalists. A group of nearly 100 students from a school for deaf-and-dumb children at Feroz Shah Kotla also came on stage to support Anna. When their teacher gesticulated with his hands that they would have to leave at 5 p.m, the boys demurred putting up their ten fingers to indicate they wanted to stay till 10 p.m., perplexing the teacher.
When asked if a section of the youngsters in the crowd was a tad too indisciplined for a protest of this gravity, Balak Ram, a retired high school English teacher from Jhajjar district in Haryana who will turn 80 next year, said: “That is their age. Isn't it great that they have come here to protest instead of going to watch a movie or wasting time elsewhere?”
Mr. Ram said he had been at the Maidan for four days and had also come to the Maidan for Baba Ramdev's fast in June and stayed on for Anna Hazare's day-long fast at Raj Ghat in protest against the police crackdown.
The free food being served at the Maidan was lapped up enthusiastically by the supporters with serpentine queues forming up even past 4-30 p.m. for the lunch which comprised rice, daal, roti, and sabzi, even as bread pakoras were being distributed at tea time.
Every part of the Maidan has turned slushy due to the heavy rains of the past few days, forcing most of the supporters to remain standing throughout the day. Many of them could be seen spreading newspapers on the wet ground to make place to sit.