Anna Hazare sat on stage, the Tricolour waving behind him as patriotic songs wafted through Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, where people with different causes and problems had come to hitch their protest wagon to his. From Tamil Nadu and Punjab farmers to Jaypee home buyers and employees against the Moser Baer boss, everyone hoped the spotlight on him would also throw a light on them and their troubles.
Seven years after he launched his India against Corruption (IAC) movement in Delhi and mobilised thousands of disenchanted people to march to Ramlila Maidan to wage a heady war against corruption, Hazare is back with an indefinite fast that began on March 23. Then, he had got thousands to shake off their apathy and gave them a chance to be part of a people’s movement that played out under the glare of TV cameras. This time, however, the crowd has been limited to farmers and people with specific causes.
The buzz too seems muted. Unlike in 2011, when Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav came together under Hazare’s leadership and a new party, the Aam Aadmi Party, was born, in 2018 there are no high-profile visitors.
On Tuesday afternoon, after sitting on the dais for a while, Anna moved backstage while leaders of various unions take to the stage to list their demands. People who had from across the country sat at a fair distance from the stage, behind a barricade, chatting in groups on the sprawling maidan.
This time, the government may have changed but Anna’s demands remain almost the same: greater compensation and pension for farmers, implementation of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 and the use of ballot paper in elections and totaliser machines for counting of votes.
While farmers of the Bharatiya Kisan Union make up a large number of the crowds, the young and the urban are largely missing, except perhaps for a group of youngsters from Umang theatre in Burari. Dressed in black, practising their protest songs, they said Tuesday they “try and support all social causes”.
Ved Parkash Gupta said he had protested several times in the last few years but this time, he is filled with hope. He is near certain that sharing the same space as Anna will finally get him a refund of the Rs 9 lakh he and his daughters had invested in a Ponzi scheme run by PACL (Pearls Agrotech Corporation).
“The Prime Minister only says he what he wants to, why doesn’t he speak for us? Maybe the media that is here to cover Anna Hazare will notice us and air our grievances,” said Gupta, a retired railway employee.
“We have got a readymade stage here,” Deepak from Greater Noida agreed. They said they were part of a group of “2,000 people” who had come mainly from Haryana and Punjab under the umbrella of the All Investor Safety Organisation to demand that the government implement the Supreme Court order to refund their money.
A little ahead of the PACL protesters were a group of women in tricolour sarees, some sporting matching bangles. Shiv Devi had come all the way from Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, leaving behind her husband and daughter. She was not exactly sure what she had come for but hoped something would be done to help small-time farmers and farm labour. “Ask Didi for the details. She got us here,” she said, pointing to a young woman trying to placate her six-month-old.
Didi is Sapna Raj Tyagi from Lucknow who runs Adarsh Veerangana Gareeb Seva Sansthan to help women from poor families. “We all are victims of corruption. Jaise PM, waise DM, waise thanedar, no one gives us justice. My land in my village was taken away by pandits. That is why we are here with someone who talks against corruption,” said Bala Deen, a farm labourer who belongs to the sansthan from Gurbakshganj in Rae Bareli.
“We held a dharna for a month at Cheema Mandi in Sangrur (Punjab) and we have now come here. We are asking for the things that Anna Hazare is asking for – more compensation for farmers, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission Report. Look at what agriculture in Punjab once was and what it is now,” says Mandeep Singh, a farmer from Sangrur.
About 10 buses with farmers had come from Sangrur. Shiv Kumar had just arrived from Allahabad. “We are about 50 from Allahabad,” he said.
Organisations are not the only ones hoping to make their voices heard. Harphool Singh Baloda is a lone ranger, a “life-long baghi” as he calls himself. A farmer, he has lent his voice to many issues — this time it’s for prohibition. But the farmer’s plight remains his abiding concern. “Once upon a time people would rather get their daughters married to a farmer and not a soldier. Now, they will rather their daughters marry anyone but a farmer,” he said.