Admiration for Anna, and then some admissions

A scene on Wednesday night at the Ramlila Maidan. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

A scene on Wednesday night at the Ramlila Maidan. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

Surprisingly, many among the audience admit that they have themselves dodged taxes

It is Wednesday night and the crowds have begun to thin out at the grand theatre at Ramlila Maidan where Anna Hazare is on a fast demanding the immediate introduction and passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill.

The sight is a bit of a let-down because it does not measure up to the riveting scenes we — my journalist friend and I — saw on a popular television channel minutes before heading out to Ramlila: A seamless stretch of humanity frenziedly shouting Vande Mataram and waving oversized India flags. The anchor himself was sure that the previous evening's footfalls were hugely surpassed.

It is like a carnival outside the venue. Vendors of ice cream and street food crowd the pavements. A thriving ancillary industry is selling various Anna merchandise: Visitors have a choice from among Anna topis (caps), T-shirts and posters. They can also pick up the Tricolour in whatever size they want. We weave our way through the makeshift bazaar only to be mobbed by dozens of children offering to paint the national flag on our cheeks.

From this frenetic, buzzing activity to a ‘maidan' draped in semi-darkness and filled only in parts is a something of a shock. But there is no mistaking the enthusiasm of the mostly male, slogan-shouting audience. Anna is undoubtedly their hero. A sample survey throws up not one dissenting voice. The Jan Lokpal is what they want — both because Anna is its author and because any version offered by the “corrupt, double-dealing” government is necessarily suspect. But the distinctly anti-government mood does not translate as support to any other party. Who do you want for Prime Minister? “Anna” say most, but then comes the quick afterthought: “He won't run for PM so let it be one from his team. We trust them.”

Great expectations

The expectations from the Jan Lokpal Bill are huge, and there is unanimity of opinion that it will end corruption. What if the Lokpal becomes corrupt? “No way. These are good, honest guys and they will never allow that to happen.” Surprisingly, many among the audience admit to the reality of private-sector corruption, accepting that they have themselves dodged taxes. Sohan Lal from Tilak Nagar is in the stone trade and does not give receipts to his buyers. Aditya Gaur from Porta Builders in Dwarka agrees that there is a lot of black money in the business. “But I'm here also to reform myself,” he says with disarming candour.

A policeman on duty estimates the crowd strength at 15,000. However, a TV reporter, who is evidently a fan of the Anna movement, does not see it as a problem: “Remember, this is the ninth day of the fast, and on the weekend the crowds were unmanageably huge. What matters is their determination. I've seen them standing here in pouring rain.”

On the main road off the exit, a group of Muslims sits huddled together, seemingly in solidarity with Anna. But lest the impression persist, they clarify that they are outside only because there is no electricity in their homes.

We take an auto to where our vehicle has been parked — just half a kilometre away. The driver asks for Rs. 50, genially admitting that he has fleeced us: “ Arre, don't worry. Once the Lokpal Bill is passed, I will go by the meter.”

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 9:23:06 PM |

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