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Mumbai ROARS in support of Anna's battle-cry

By Sanchari Bhattacharya
August 10, 2011 18:21 IST

What Delhi does, Mumbai can do better, a mammoth gathering of activist Anna Hazare's supporters proved. Sanchari Bhattacharya reports.

Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Kapil Sibal would not have liked it here.

At a public meeting organised by supporters of activist Anna Hazare in Mumbai on Tuesday evening, many people had some rather uncharitable comments to make about the prime minister and the Congress president.

Hazare and fellow activist Arvind Kejriwal also took the opportunity to take several well-aimed pot shots at the telecom minister.

"Sonia, Manmohan, kuch subbudhi le lo hum se (let us impart some wisdom to you)," proclaimed one of the many posters held aloft at the venue.

On a makeshift dais set up by some traders' corporation, a speaker was addressing a small but attentive crowd, "You think people like Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan and Sibal are trying to help us? They are thieves and they are trying to ruin us".

Kejriwal touched on this theme in his brisk but hard-hitting speech.

"The government is dealing with everything but corruption in its version of the Lokpal Bill. What do you think its real intentions are," he asked the over 5,000 people assembled at Azaad Maidan, Mumbai.

"Government chor hai (The government is made up of thieves)," roared back the crowd.

The Magsaysay Award winner went on to compare the current government to the "blood-sucking" British who had ruled India till independence.

"The British used to pilfer away money that belonged to India and send it to Britain. Nothing much has changed; today, our rulers send it to Switzerland," he said, as thousands of voices booed in unison.

The meeting in Mumbai, probably a show of force by Team Anna before they take their battle back to the national capital, had the usual ingredients that have now become characteristic of the Gandhian's public rallies.

Some of these were -- a man dressed as Mahatma Gandhi, every speaker comparing Hazare to the Father of the Nation (some calling him a reincarnation of Gandhiji), patriotic songs like saare jahan se acha being played/performed, numerous tricolours held proudly by Hazare's supporters, an overwhelming presence of the media, scores of watchful policemen and women, a gaggle of curious onlookers, breathless young volunteers running around, older volunteers urging bystanders and participants to sign up to show their support and colourful, creative posters dotting the venue.

One of the posters rather boldly urged people not to pay taxes till the government approved the Jan Lokpal Bill. Another targetted the corrupt, quipping, "Blame them, shame them, jail them".

The first round of Hazare's agitation -- when he went on an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar in Delhi in April -- had been characterised by hopeful expectation of long-pending action against corruption.

But this time, determination, not hope, seems to be the factor driving the burgeoning movement.

Hazare and his team have termed the meeting and subsequent rally in Mumbai as the beginning of "India's second fight for freedom".

They know that the battle for the Jan Lokpal Bill will be a tough one, but they are determined to fight it all the way.

"We will not surrender to the government. It is our government, but it is working against us," said Pranik Desai, a stock broker from Mumbai. Desai has been a member of NGO India Against Corruption for nearly six months.

"I am sorry to say that the media is not doing its job. You people should write reports about the discrepancy between the two Lokpal Bills, but you are not doing that," rued Desai.

Desai's disdain for the government's Lokpal Bill was evidently shared by many in the crowd. When Kejriwal waved a copy of it and asked them, "so what do we do with this", some of the interesting suggestions were, "burn it, destroy it, tear it into pieces, use it as toilet paper".

Kejriwal and Hazare chose the first option and enthusiastically lit a mashaal (flaming torch) with copies of the Bill, as the crowd cheered and appluaded.

A young man, who was standing on a chair to get a better look at the proceedings, shouted, "Go, Anna, go" and jumped in glee. He promptly toppled over and dislodged several people around him.

But he got up cheerfully, wiped the mud off his t-shirt and apologised profusely to people who he had inadvertently flattened.

Regaining his composure, he opined, "The government has recently said that burning their Lokpal Bill is akin to insulting the Parliament. I think our legislators themselves are an insult to Parliament," as the bruised bystanders nodded in agreement.

In spite of the impressive turn-out and the passionate crowd, weren't some of Hazare's supporters wary of the long fight ahead?

Did they really believe that a few lakh protestors could take on the Indian government?

"My question to you is, why don't you believe in us? Why don't you believe that we can do it," said Sachin Raut.

Sachin, a computer engineer, has been a member of India Against Corruption for nearly two years.

"Look at how the movement has shaped up, how it is growing, the number of supporters we have," he said, pointing to the rapturous crowd.

His friend Rajesh shares his faith in Hazare and his movement.

"You may think our task is too difficult. But people had the same apprehension about fighting the British; they couldn't do anything for 200 years. It just took one man to change all that and rewrite India's history."

The Gandhian activist may have his share of detractors, but there were no signs of them at the section of Azaad Maidan that had been barricaded for the meeting; not even a single nook or corner was unoccupied. Hundreds of people waited patiently for hours, braving the intermittent rain, to listen to their feisty leader.

A rock star's reception awaited Hazare as he made his way to the stage, flanked by a human chain of volunteers. Hundreds of men, women and even some police personnel tried to wriggle in to get a glimpse of their 74-year-old "hero". Volunteers kept on appealing to people to stay calm and remain in their places, but in vain.

Playing to the packed house, Hazare said, "The government wants to crush my movement, they may put me jail. I don't mind that. After all, you get breakfast and two meals there. But if you want real change, you have to take to the streets. What will they do? They can't put 120 crore Indians in jail".

In true rock concert style, he challenged the crowd, "So tell me, do you have it in you? Can you do this for me?"

Hopefully, the eardrum-splitting 'YES' that emanated from the massive gathering in response to his query may reach some of our occasionally hearing-impaired politicians in New Delhi.

Sanchari Bhattacharya