At Ramlila, a mini India watched Anna break fast
Hours before Anna Hazare broke a 13-day hunger strike that shook the nation, all roads led to the Ramlila ground. And as he sipped coconut water, tens of thousands gave him a standing, boisterous ovation that would make any politician go green with envy.delhi Updated: Aug 28, 2011 13:33 IST
Hours before Anna Hazare broke a 13-day hunger strike that shook the nation, all roads led to the Ramlila ground. And as he sipped coconut water, tens of thousands gave him a standing, boisterous ovation that would make any politician go green with envy.
It was a mini India out there. A saffron robed swami. A tall Nihang Sikh in bright blue. Mahatma Gandhi lookalikes. Men with Rajasthani head gears. Retired employees. The jobless. Traders. Vendors. Bus drivers. Farmers.
Like in any movement, the middle class did dominate.
Kids were perched on parents' shoulders. The young, clearly in majority, were the most vocal. There were housewives. And couples. There were plenty of people in their 50s and 60s. And women too were shouting slogans.
Ramlila ground was awash with Indian flags, "I Am Anna" caps and cheeks painted with the tricolour. There were matching T-shirts, all paying their own tribute, in Hindi and English, to the diminutive Hazare.
Tricolour bandanas spoke of "Chak De India". There were hand drawn pictures of Anna made to look like Hindu gods Shiv and Hanuman. There were Bhagat Singh photos. And the evergreen Che Guevera T-shirts.
Placards -- almost all hand-written -- were aplenty. "Say No To Bribes" read one. "Congratulations! We have done it!" said another. "Victory for Anna, Victory for India!"
The reference was to parliament's acceptance late Saturday of the three main issues raised by Hazare in his fight for a strong anti-corruption law -- a citizen's charter for every government department, ombudsmen for all states and inclusion of the lower bureaucracy in any Lokpal.
No one knew how many were packing the Ramlila ground. Estimates ranged from a modest 50,000 to a more realistic 70,000 to more. The crowds poured in relentlessly, making it a nightmarish experience for Delhi Police.
Even when Hazare began speaking, several hundreds were on the roads around Ramlila ground, struggling to get in.
Complete strangers photographed one another -- while hugging their own posters and flags. There were drums and horns of many shapes. Cymbals too. Some used plates and pans to add to the relentless din.
The slogans just didn't stop. There were dozens of groups shouting slogans all over the ground. When speakers on the stage raised slogans, the crowd response was deafening, matched with clenched fists.
The crowds kept surging to the front, towards the stage. At one time, hundreds had invaded the media enclosure, forcing the organisers to plead with the intruders to retreat.
Some sprayed the Holi colours to celebrate.
One man held a giant poster resembling an Indian currency note -- of a non-existent Rs.10,00,000 denomination! It showed an Anna in the place of the Mahatma.
No one had any objections.
"Anna is a Mahatma," an elderly Nihang Sikh in his trademark blue kurta insisted to no one in particular. "How else can lakhs of people gather all over the country for so many days and not indulge in any violence?"
He added: "One Anna has given birth to so many Annas in 12 days. If only our parliament was packed with Annas, India would stand out in the world."
A trader from Karol Bagh, Rajesh, became emotive when Hazare broke his hunger strike.
"I have tears in my eyes," the man said. "How could a 74-year-old man unite India in this manner? How?"