It was an afternoon of nostalgia for Manu Pratap Singh, a bespectacled man in his thirties. “This was how it was when the first andolan (movement) began,” he smiled, standing outside the swivelling doors of Maharashtra Sadan’s first-floor banquet hall.
Inside, social activist Anna Hazare was seated on an office chair placed on a slightly raised platform, occasionally cupping his palms behind his ears to hear the speaker a little better. To his right, farmers, jawans, taxi-drivers, government-owned hotel employees and social workers walked up to pledge their support to what might become Hazare’s “second
The man, whose anti-corruption movement in 2011 — along with Arvind Kejriwal who went on to become Delhi’s Chief Minister — marked the slow downhill movement of the UPA regime, said very little. But at the heart of the Capital, on Kasturba Gandhi Marg, he was quietly attempting to consolidate his support for a second agitation: for a “strong anti-corruption Bill” and against “repressive government
Hazare has written eight letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his supporters said, asking him to pledge his support for a strong Lokpal Bill. According to them, he wrote that even though Modi had been the Prime Minister for three years, the government had “hastily” passed amendments to weaken the anti-corruption law instead of enforcing the Lokpal Bill and the Lokayukta Act.
“In 2011, people fired from his (Anna Hazare) shoulders. The BJP and the RSS used the atmosphere that the movement created to remove the Congress,” claimed Colonel Dinesh Nain, a close aide and informal compere for the afternoon.
“He (Anna) had not planned to carry out another agitation but yesterday when he sat on a hunger strike at Rajghat, he was in quiet consultation with Gandhiji. He consulted him to ask what he should do and today’s meeting is proof enough on what he plans to do,” he said.
On Tuesday, the hundred people who had gathered at the hall came mainly from Delhi and its surroundings, some from Rohtak and Uttarakhand, and others from down the road who were on the verge of losing their jobs at government-owned hotels under threat of shutting down. These were all “junior and middle level” karyakartas, Nain said, those who had been part of the andolan from 2010. Some had left to join politics, others to start NGOs, but the ones who were inside the hall were “believers of a people’s movement”, he said.
But six years later, the mood is different. It is also a clash of generations: an older supporter wanting to go on hunger strike as the best means of agitation and a younger one wanting to start a social media campaign.
Dr Sunilam, from the Kisan Sangarsh Samiti, said he advised Hazare to attend all mass farmer agitations scheduled for the next two months. “I had cautioned him about the padyatra that we were supposed to embark on from Nagpur to Delhi after the last andolan. It never happened because there were two different groups vying for his attention. So I told him about the biggest crisis in the country at the moment: that affecting the farmers. He must show up at all the major agitations. He will get his supporters right there,” he said.
As the afternoon progressed, barbs were made of Kejriwal’s exit to politics and the Modi government’s policies that affected livelihoods — but the focus was on a “jan andolan”. “I signed an affidavit in 2015 that I will never join politics,” Ranju Minhas, from Anna Hazare’s Delhi unit, said. “Anna says don’t become part of a political party and seek tickets. The power of citizens goes away. It will lead to subsequent moral and social corruption,” she said.
Behind her, a man started to chant Anna Hazare’s name and raised his fist. “Please don’t start shouting any slogans,” Mihas told him, “we won’t be given rooms at Maharashtra Sadan again.”