On stage, a steadfast Anna Hazare lies firm and unfazed, occasionally waving to the crowds. Backstage, military precision goes into preparing for another day of what has been an iconic protest-cum-carnival.
Day at ground zero begins not with slogan-shouting, but with a nearly confidential strategy meeting at the crack of dawn. Most protesters are either bleary-eyed or semi-asleep, lounging on one another’s bodies for support, until a chaiwala does the rounds.
Forty-five-year-old Arvind Kejriwal, a former bureaucrat, goes into a huddle with some of his select aides, mostly young volunteers from anti-bribe organisation Indian Against Corruption.
It is in these meetings where Kejriwal chalks out his line of attack and tactics, which the government has fended very poorly, such as the decision to peacefully picket the homes of ministers and MPs.
The strategists take stock of the past day’s response. They also finalise plans for a new day, as Hazare’s fast enters the second straight week. Volunteers keep a tight vigil on outsiders who may sneak in.
The scouts are especially reminded to look out for lumpen elements and check for signs of brawls or violence.
Media strategy is the cornerstone of the anti-corruption campaign, which risks being India’s own Arab spring.
Tuesday’s strategy: control bad publicity and get more farmers in, following criticism that a majority of protesters are urbanites, people who have ironically benefited the most from India’s robust 8% growth.
India Against Corruption, the Kejriwal-backed organisation, moves swiftly to counter whatever criticism the movement has encountered so far by hosting a “Frequently Answered Questioned” page on their site.
It attempts to refute key charges levied against Team Anna, or the group that tapped Hazare as the mascot of their movement.
Sample these questions: “Does Anna’s fast amount to blackmail?” “Was the government’s bowing to Anna’s demands coerced?” “Ambedkar had said civil disobedience must stop after independence, so why is this allowed now?” “Isn’t there is a danger that others will copy the same methods?” “It weakens democracy when an activist group forces the government and elected representatives to do what they want.”
For answers, head to Ramlila Ground.