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The night they stood guard for Anna

In The rain that poured mostly unabated through Tuesday night,there were two distinct sets of people on guard duty.

Written by Dipankar Ghose | New Delhi |
August 25, 2011 3:11:14 am

In The rain that poured mostly unabated through Tuesday night,there were two distinct sets of people on guard duty. While one set consisted of Delhi Police personnel,spread out across the Ramlila Maidan under wet umbrellas,the second comprised 1,000 supporters who were given the task of protecting “their beloved Anna” from the lawkeepers themselves.

Around 9.20 pm,fifteen minutes after Dr Naresh Trehan announced to the crowds that his medical team had advised Hazare to get himself admitted to a hospital,or at least allow himself to be put on a saline drip,Anna emerged. Speaking for the first time that day,he told the crowd that he had decided against leaving and his “antaratma had told him to not allow any external medicine to enter his body”.

The crowd roared in approval. And then came the instructions. Hazare said,“The government may try to take me to the hospital at night. If that happens,stand at the gates and don’t allow them to do it.”

“Shantipoorvak karna,koi hatha pahi nahi,” he said,before going inside to retire. For his supporters,the vigil had just begun.

The crowd began murmuring,and people started looking at the policemen with suspicion. “There seem to be a lot more policemen tonight,” said Satish Hande,who had come to Ramlila Maidan from Pune. The number of ambulances present in the compound became another topic of discussion. Supporters were heard whispering among themselves: “Ambulance ko dekhte rehna,koi activity ho to sabko bata dena.”

Amid all this,there was some fear regarding the condition of their leader’s health. Some even wanted him to accept the medical treatment. Prakash Sharma,a trader from Chandni Chowk,said,“If all of this is happening,it must be serious. He should break his fast. The movement will go on even if he does it. We will ensure that it does. But we need him for giving us direction. Nothing should happen to him.”

Around midnight,having returned from their meeting with Salman Khurshid and Pranab Mukherjee,Arvind Kejriwal and about 20 core committee members were seen holding a meeting atop the dais vacated by Anna. Supporters hung as close to the stage as possible,holding onto the railings of the press enclosure,probably awaiting further instructions. None came,and Kejriwal went to sleep on the dais itself.

This assuaged the crowd to some extent. “If something untoward happens,he will alert us,” they said.

The rain kept pouring,and some were seen settling down in whatever dry patch they could find. With the leaky tents giving nearly no relief,they used anything they could find to cover their bodies — cardboard sheets,newspapers,even flags. But,through it all,each group required at least one person to stay awake through the night.

“Anything can happen. If we have to bring the Jan Lokpal Bill into existence,this is what we must do,” said Harish Saxena. Journalists in the press enclosure were repeatedly asked,“Chances kya lag rahe hai,ki kuch ho raha hai?”

When most of the answers they received were in the negative,they went away. However,new sets of concerned people kept coming along.

By 4 in the morning,supporters began cleaning up the ground to give themselves something to do,and whenever they started shouting slogans,volunteers politely told them to refrain from doing so. Anna was sleeping,and he needed his rest.

As the day broke and the skies finally stopped pouring,some of the volunteer-guards went to sleep. Their shift was over,and it was time for the ones on day duty to come in.

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