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First person report by Col. Shivraj

Yesterday I went to the Ramlila grounds. Like you, me too have been glued to the TV from the day the drama started. So, I wanted to get a “feel” of the happenings on the ground. More specifically I wanted to make some contribution (financially) to the cause.

I’d like to share with you what I experienced. First the donation part.

I approached the volunteer at the counter (there are two/three huge counters and help desks set up by the India Against Corruption  volunteers.). “But Sir, we are not taking any donations.” Shocked; I informed him that I am not paying by cash, I have brought my cheque book. (They are extremely meticulous in maintaining their accounts. I had experienced this when I had visited their fast site at Jantar Mantar in April. Even if somebody gave them 10 Rupees, they would insist on giving a receipt with details of address, phone no. etc. This had caused long queues. They know that the scoundrels in the Govt. are just waiting to pounce on them with allegations of  irregularities in accounts). “Sir, we are not accepting even cheques now. We have stopped collecting donations.”

I pulled out my copy of the Times of India of the day and showed them the report where it said they had a special cell for collecting donations. “We know it Sir, but thanks to generous people like you, we have collected enough money for our needs for the time being and since last night, we have stopped taking any more money.”

In more than 65 years of my existence, this was the first time I was coming across an NGO/ Institution/ Movement which was not taking  money. I am more used to their pestering.

Just to double check, I approached a few other volunteers at different desks. Same response. But doesn’t an ongoing movement like this constantly need funds ? The response was that they will restart the collection drive in that situation. But for the time being, they had enough for their needs ! “Besides Sir, most of the activities that you see here on a large scale, e.g. water, tea, food distribution etc. are being organised by individuals / organisations. We are not doing anything on that front.”

(OK, I have made my main point and you may stop reading any further. I am just wanting to put down on paper other tit-bits that I saw, but you may not have the time to go through the same. I am not making any effort to “condense it”!)

Talking of volunteers, they are so young and well educated. Replace their “India Against Corruption” T shirts with normal office attire and you will see they fit into finest of the companies. A large no. of them indeed are from very professional organisations. Clearly overworked, they presented such a dedicated face. Not a single case of losing temper, at least as long as I was there. Some achievement, considering that a huge no. of not-so-educated people surround them at any given point of time. Some were not even getting time to sip a cup of tea. The relief on getting a chance to do so was so palpable on their face. There must have been more than a hundred of them there. The true heroes and heroines of India.

Every few minutes, a trailer van would be leaving the grounds after collecting all the litter that was filling up the large bins kept all over the ground. These bins kept getting filled up so fast because there was an enormous amount of food being distributed free by individuals and private organisations.

There were long queues at the counters distributing full meal (not just snacks). The food, served
in clean thermocole type trays and with plastic spoons was wholesome. Rice, Puri, Subji etc. They reminded one of Bhandaras orLangars ! Snacks (Parle G biscuits, Grams (chana), some bananas and sundries), water pouches, tea etc. were being so enthusiastically distributed . They were literally catching anyone passing by and handing over the same ! One such person (a Sardarji) was distributing biscuits; so I asked him if he had come all the way from Punjab. “Nahinji, I am from Faridabad”. My chest swelled with pride; people from my town were also doing their bit. Shook hands warmly, but couldn’t talk much; he was so busy.

The irony of it all was not lost on me. Here were these multitudes who had come in support of a fasting man and were being filled to the brim by rest of the society !

Reverting to the topic of litter and bins, the ground, slushy and muddy as it was, was full of litter. Despite the best efforts of the volunteers. After all, we are Indians. How can we live in cleanliness ? Then I saw a very well off, middle aged lady, the kind you will see in your (posh) neighbourhood; pick up a cane basket and get down to the task of picking up littered plates, trays, plastic pouches etc.
and transfer them to the bins. It was a strange phenomena. A high caste lady cleaning up the muck thrown around by (metaphorically speaking) Dalits and lower castes ! This was the new, emerging India. For the first time, during my stay at the Ramlila grounds, I felt so ashamed of myself.

Instinctively, I too bent down to pick up a few of these. But within 3/4 minutes, realised that my back won’t support me. The hardest thing to remove were the plastic spoons that had got embedded in the mud all around.

That was not the only place where our sense of hygiene was on full display. An artist had put up a very large no. of thoroughly enjoyable Poster Cartoons on a wall. High quality. I believe they are also on Facebook and Twitter. (For example, there was one showing one politician telling another, “How can they call us all corrupt ? When half of us haven’t even got the ministries where we can make money !”). Yet it was so difficult to stand and read all the cartoons. The Pee stink was so strong. My countrymen were merrily peeing on the adjoining wall (at right angles to the Cartoon wall), despite authorities having provided toilets just outside the gates. If that was not enough, consider this : The wall on which they were peeing was the side wall of a temple !

When you looked at eye level, you saw a sea of humanity, tricolours fluttering, massive and un-co-ordintaed slogan shouting, but when you looked down, you felt sick. Muddy and uneven grounds with pools of stagnant water every few steps (it has been raining heavily here). So difficult to walk around; often having to jump around. This was Ramlila ground, where every year, Ramlila celebrations take place on a large scale and any no. of political rallies take place every alternate week, so to speak. Could the Municipal Corporation of Delhi not pave it all these years ? You automatically turned your face down when you saw a foreigner try to negotiate the grounds. Yet, you just had to turn your face 90 degrees to see a massive (32 stories, I believe), super-modern, massive building just on the other side of the road. I was convinced it belonged to a top notch MNC. Finally, I caught hold of a smart, though grey haired Police Officer and asked him whose building was that. He was surprised, but let me know it was the MCD HQ building and has been there for a few years. What a contrast and what a shame. The rascals (MCD is currently controlled by BJP) can’t see the pathetic condition of the Ramlila grounds from their windows every moment of their working day ? And BJP is lecturing us how the entire mess in the country is because of the Congress.

Well, enough of the side-shows and tit-bits. Let’s come to the main picture. Simply amazing. Huge no. of people. I think the media is grossly under-reporting the same. They talk of the crowd size at a given point of time. A static measurement, if you please. When I was there (it was afternoon; supposed to be at its thinnest), there were at least 20,000 at any given point of time. Yet the actual crowd is far, far bigger. Probably 3 times the estimates. For, people are constantly streaming in and streaming out. Just like me. Families, the rich and the poor, handicapped people, I even saw an almost 100 year old villager, barely able to walk, just a loin cloth around him, panting very badly, come up to the main tent with the help of what I believe was his grandson. Whoever has been spreading the canard that it is a “middle class” phenomena needs to have his/her eyesight examined.

I saw far greater no. of very poor Indians from all over the country than the so-called “middle class”. The enthusiasm is amazing. Slogans, patriotic songs and Bhajans are the dominant theme. The crowd does not fall silent even for a minute. When I was there, Manoj Tiwari, a popular Bihari singer was belting one patriotic song after another. And the entire crowd was singing with him and waving with their hands raised up (no space for any horizontal movement of the hands). For full one hour. And that dynamo of a 62 year old lady called Kiran Bedi. She was waving a large size tricolour vigorously from one side to the other on the stage. For that full one hour. Try doing it for 10 minutes ! Besides them, a quite old, dark complexioned villager, looking just like your or mine grandpa was sitting cross legged on a wooden cot, wearing a constant smile and often swinging his head or clapping lightly with the music. The epicenter of it all : Anna Hazare.

While the main crowd keeps up with the Stage, there are a thousand side shows of patriotic commitment going on. Every group, some very small, enter the grounds shouting their own slogans and waving the national flag. So, in a sense, you also have a sense of cacophony. I saw a family consisting of a mother and 4 daughters (I presume) enter through a gate and immediately launch into “Vande Mataram” and other slogans. Irrespective of what slogans or songs were being sung from the stage. They had to let the world know how charged up they were. Total commitment to the cause. Huge no. of (mostly handwritten) placards and painted faces greet you.

So, overall, did I feel happy ? Or, proud ? Yes, immensely. This can happen only in India. It was an authentic Indian Mela. For a very serious cause. Where else in the world will you find such lofty ideals existing peacefully with physical filth; where else would you find feasting co-existing with fasting ; where would you have such massive crowds with no leader, yet not a single case of violence.
First time that I saw so many policemen and policewomen with not a single one carrying a lathi . Where would you find thousands to keep standing on their feet for 24 hours, for there is so little of dry space to sleep or sit. When I was on my way to the grounds, I stopped at a petrol station to fill in. I heard one attendant telling another that he had returned at 3.30 am. Presumably from the Ramlila grounds. It seems people like him are on duty upto 11 p.m. or so; then take the Metro or some other transport, go to site to support Anna and team; take the first available Metro in the morning to reach home or place of work. What commitment!!

I never saw Mahatma Gandhi (seen Vinoba Bhave though). But I got a great feel for what mass movements of those days were like. Let’s all pray that this semi-literate man’s health remains good and the SOBs in Govt. and political parties see reason. Maybe, just maybe, we might yet see within our lifetime, India move up dramatically from the 87th rank amongst the most corrupt nations in the world. And instead of Gods and Goddesses, start worshipping Anna’s team members. The likes of Arvind Kejriwal. Have brought a lost cause to center stage. With their leadership, immense hard work over the years, zeal, sacrifice in personal life and with an intelligence that has completely outwitted the entire Govt. and political class.

Till then, enjoy your TV show !

P.S. Just when I finished typing the above, I saw a news item in today’s TOI that indeed “India Against Corruption” folks have stopped accepting donations, because they have already collected “60 Lacs”. What a joke compared to what the politicians want to collect. I remember, when my state’s former Chief Minister Chauthala was charged with illegally amassing Rs. 1500 crores, his retort was “What is 1500 crores for a politician these days” ! And here are these folks saying a mere 60 lacs is enough to run this countrywide movement. Long live the new India!!!


(contributed by: Mohan Rao on 02.09.2011)

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