No one really, certainly not the government, had anticipated the extent of countrywide support for Anna Hazare and his crusade against corruption. Within hours of the news of his arrest breaking on the networks, spontaneous protests broke out from Baroda to Bhubaneswar and Kanpur to Kochi, leaving the government gasping at the national demonstration of democratic dissent.
Far away from the fastmoving developments in Delhi, people from all walks of life took to the streets spontaneously, in rain and shine, not just in the metros but even in smaller towns. Everywhere, the protesters denounced the government (no one was willing to accept that the police action was possible without the nod of government bigwigs) and chanted slogans demanding a stronger Lokpal bill.
If TV channels brought the news of his arrest, social media networks like Twitter started buzzing to mobilize crowds, big and small, to amplify the message. Remarkably, despite the high level of popular anger, there was hardly any untoward incident — obviously, Anna’s message to maintain peace at all costs had reached his supporters, some of whom courted arrest while some others observed a day’s fast.
The rains in north India didn’t deter the people, drenched and purposeful, from coming out on the streets. Even those who have had reservations about Anna’s methods were angry with the government’s high-handedness in muzzling protest. As actor-director Farhan Akhtar said: “The Indian citizen has the right to protest peacefully. Anna’s arrest is unconstitutional and shows symptoms of an authoritarian mindset.” His father, lyricist Javed Akhtar, said: “I have had certain reservations about Anna’s method but his arrest cannot be condoned. It is undemocratic, unacceptable.”
92 % SAY GOVT’S HANDLING OF ANNA IS UNDEMOCRATIC
On Monday, we asked on www.timesofindia.com if restricting Anna Hazare’s fast amounted to suppression of freedom of expression. In less than 24 hours, we got almost 26,000 responses. As events unfolded on a fast-paced Tuesday, we put up 3 more questions. Since the questions were up for barely 5 hours at the time of going to press, they obviously got fewer responses — around 15,000. But the trend was pretty clear Anna’s graft battle unites a nation
The fact that Anna Hazare had been lodged in Tihar’s Jail No. 1, the same building in which CWG scam accused Suresh Kalmadi was also lodged, seemed to many as an insult on top of injury. “Democracy had been murdered” was the common refrain across the country as protestors swelled in numbers. Candlelight processions were taken out in the evening in several metros.
Social activist Medha Patkar led the demonstration at Azad Maidan in south Mumbai. Anna’s followers raised slogans like “Anna Hazare, Hum tumhare saath hain” (Anna, we are with you) and “Corruption hatao” (Do away with corruption). Like everywhere else, the turnout was impressive in Mumbai. Nearly 3,000 enthusiasts were detained “on charges of unlawful assembly”. They were later released.
Bollywood relied on Twitter to extend its support to Anna. “Voices of people like Anna can’t be muffled,” said filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar on the social media network. An army of protestors wore Gandhi caps boasting ‘I am Anna’ in Nagpur. They took over the main roundabout on the busy Nagpur-Jabalpur national highway before courting arrest. All normal activity came to a standstill in Anna’s village of Ralegaon Siddhi. Locals came out on the road with their cattle and blocked traffic. “The entire village is observing a bandh,” said 73-year- old Datta Awari, Anna’s associate.
In Kolkata, over 200 people joined the fast at the Metro Channel.
From The Times of India-17.08.11