New Delhi: Outside the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, Anna Hazare’s hunger strike is attracting support from an unlikely combination of individuals.
The crowd of supporters waxes and wanes depending on the time of the day. The television media makes up a large proportion of the centre ground. Then there are the wisened activists from all over India, who make a lifestyle out of following protests like this one.
But standing with them in the crowd, there are also families, children, old women, and a good number of young, educated Delhiites for whom social activism is a new experience. For many, this is a one-off experiment, the first time they have taken part in a political protest, but the issue of corruption has resonated so strongly in the public’s imagination over the past year that they have been spurred into action.
Gaurav Jain works for a boutique investment bank in the city and is taking time off to volunteer with India Against Corruption, a citizen-led campaign that is organizing the protest.
Jain has been at the demonstration since Tuesday and fasted in solidarity with Hazare’s movement.
“I’ll tell you it was for the first time in my life. I was waiting for a good reason to fast,” he said. “I’m not fasting for someone else, for some god. It’s for my future. Hazare is fasting for me.”
Jain decided to volunteer after hearing about the protest on the campaign’s Facebook page, which has nearly 100,000 followers.
By 9.30pm on Wednesday, Anna Hazare had retired behind a screen to rest, away from the glare of TV cameras. His schedule for the day was written up on a white board by the dais on which he sits during the day.
It is carefully parcelled into half-hour slots, as precise and detailed as any politician’s, the only difference being that Hazare’s activities are restricted to resting and speaking to the press. The half hour between 1pm and 1.30pm was left blank.
A clutch of about a hundred acolytes, fasting and sleeping alongside Hazare, were reading magazines, typing on mobiles and rolling out sleeping mats for the night ahead. Watching them from the sidelines, 26-year-old Gaurav Nagpal from Delhi said this was his first protest. He saw the news of Hazare’s fast on TV and decided to come on Wednesday morning to see what all the fuss was about.
“I have never been interested in politics,” he said. “But corruption is such an evil in this system. You have to give bribes for everything now, to the police, to get a driver’s licence. Everything is attached to corruption.”
Like many others, Nagpal was more interested in registering his resentment at the government’s repeated failure to address corruption within its ranks than in the details of the Jan Lokpal Bill itself. He said he had spent the entire day at the protest site and planned to return the following morning, taking time off from his job at a Tommy Hilfiger store in Model Town. He’s convinced the protest will effect change, buoyed by the feeling of taking part in a political movement for the first time.
“I’m sure it’s going to work. It’s a bombardment,” he said. “When this Bill is issued by the cabinet, it will mean a huge change. I will definitely come here again tomorrow, and tell my friends. It’s an awesome feeling inside to be doing the right thing. This 72-year-old man is doing this for us. We are the younger generation and I’m 110% sure we will change things.”
Others, however, are less convinced. Open magazine’s editor Manu Joseph called it the “Anna Hazare Show” in his editorial. “The middle-class is wondering if this, finally, is their deserved revolution,” he wrote, suggesting that media hype had exaggerated the importance of the man who is being lionized.
On Thursday morning, Hazare appeared once more on his platform, before a reinforced crowd of news media. Lying stretched on a sheet, he watched a group of men and women as they sang and chanted, wearing placards around their necks: “If not now then when?”
The protest infrastructure had been improved overnight, with new awnings shading the press and supporters, food stalls and mobile toilets set up near police barriers.
Representatives of India Against Corruption, the group set up in support of Hazare, handed out flyers explaining the Bill and booklets to the public, collecting signatures.
“People are helping in whichever way they can,” said Man Singh, a volunteer for the group. “Some are asking about providing food or water, some are donating money or offering to print these brochures.”
Singh has been volunteering since Tuesday and said he will stay “until the end”, whatever that might be. He said the crowd has been very mixed. “There are so many young people...college students. But they are not fasting.”