Every speech haranguing government for crackdown on Ramlila grounds greeted with cheers
After successfully bringing the Lokpal Bill back to the centre stage of national politics through his fast at Jantar Mantar in April, Anna Hazare along with a large number of his supporters embarked on a daylong fast at the Rajghat here on Wednesday to protest the police crackdown on Baba Ramdev supporters on the Ramlila grounds over the weekend.
Cheering every speech haranguing the government for the police crackdown and shouting slogans demanding a tough Lokpal Bill, the mood at the Raj Ghat was lively with a predominantly young crowd lustily waving the Tricolour, plainly confident that they had the measure of the government and that their “fight” against corruption was bound to succeed.
Piqued at having to shift the venue of their protest from Jantar Mantar after police denied them permission, Mr. Hazare and other civil society members of the Lokpal Bill Joint Drafting Committee, including Shanti Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, criticised the Delhi police for labelling the fast as a threat to peace in the area.
Tributes to Mahatma
Mr. Hazare first paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at his samadhi around 10 a.m. before proceeding to the pandal erected on the tree-lined Kisan Ghat Road overlooking the picturesque Raj Ghat with the Gandhi Darshan, the nation's memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, serving as the backdrop.
Protesters who thronged the venue were disappointed at not being able to get a clear view of the stage which was erected on the pavement after organisers were forced to pitch the marquee along one side of the road to provide shelter to the protesters from the harsh June sun. This was after the police insisted that vehicles could not be blocked from plying on the other side. To ensure the protest did not spill over, iron barricades were strung together all along the road.
“Other than the vehicles of senior police officers who are coming to survey the protest, no other vehicles are plying on this road,” complained a disappointed Manish Sisodhia, who compered the day's events, after failing to get the policemen to remove the barricades.
Police also erected door-frame metal detectors and conducted manual baggage checks at both ends of the Kisan Ghat Road.
Mr. Kejriwal said not a single person was offered monetary or other rewards to join the fast. He dared the Congress and the BJP to publish accounts of the money they raised and expenses they incurred in organising rallies in the past five years. He pointed out that the “India Against Corruption” movement had published all income and expenditure figures immediately after the Jantar Mantar protest.
Loud cheers followed when Mr. Hazare in his speech remarked that he had scalped “six Cabinet Ministers' wickets” and action was taken against over 400 government officials owing to his protests over the years.
A significant number of Baba Ramdev's supporters were also present at the venue. Loudly proclaiming its secular credentials in the wake of an onslaught from Congress spokespersons that Hazare's movement harboured communal elements, a multi-denominational prayer meeting was held which was attended by Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jain religious leaders.
References by Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan to Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal's accusation that civil society members on the Lokpal drafting committee had called the Ministers “cheats and liars” were met with unexpected fury by the crowd. Slogans were raised against Mr. Sibal before Mr. Hazare stood up to silence the crowd with a firm reminder that their anger should not be directed against any person but at the system.
The speeches were interspersed with recitals of patriotic songs and street theatre “India Against Corruption” movement volunteers were also seen selling T-shirts and booklets and DVDs explaining the Lokpal Bill. Most of the people visiting the venue generously contributed money.