MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: December 27, 2011 – The anti-corruption movement leader and social activist Anna Hazare began his three-day hunger strike on Tuesday demanding a stronger version of the ombudsman (Lokpal) bill than the one being debated by Parliament.
The veteran activist reached Juhu beach, an hour late at 10am and meditated in front of a bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi. A decorated truck then ferried Anna from Juhu to MMRDA grounds. At the Ramada Inn hotel, Anna saluted Chatrapati Shivaji’s statue on the way while waving out to the crowds. Compared to the last rally held during the second August Kranti movement, only 20 percent of the crowd turned up at Juhu beach on Tuesday. Anna supporters’ in Mira-Bhayander and Vasai-Virar regions reached MMRDA grounds to show their support.
Hazare, who is suffering from a viral infection, arrived at the fast venue along with his close aides Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Manish Sisodia to a thunderous applause and slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Matram’.
Hazare began his fast shouting slogans of ‘Vande Matram’ and ‘inqilab zindabad’.
However, there was high drama on way as around 20 men blocked his convoy and showed him black flags. The convoy of Hazare, on way to Mahatma Gandhi’s statue on Juhu beach, was briefly stopped by the protesters carrying black flags and national tricolour and shouting "Anna Hazare murdabad".
The day at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi started with a trickle of Anna supporters making their way into the grounds. While the morning crowd stood at close to 1000-1200 odd people, the crowd is expected to increase by afternoon.
A retired general manager of a company, Ashok Bakshi, was at the grounds with his two four-year-old twin granddaughters Jaya and Khushi. "Instead of taking them to school today, I brought them to the Ramlila Maidan. This is an important class as well and for the next two days, this is their school. I believe that neither I, nor my son and granddaughters will tolerate corruption," said the resident of Dwarka.
Meanwhile, 79-year-old Gopal Rai from Ghaziabad sat at the grounds, steadily working on his charkha (cotton-weaving machine). "I have not left my charkha for a single day since I was 10 years old and it reminds me how to overcome poverty. We need to stand up for what we believe in and we must be united to fight against corruption," explained the retired government employee.
The mood was vibrant at the grounds despite the small turnout in the morning. As street plays took place spreading awareness about the Jan Lokpal Bill, Prashant Bhushan took the dais to speak about the need for a greater movement that would change how democracy is viewed in India.
He said, "Rich companies are making huge profits by exploiting natural beauty and the livelihoods of poor farmers, tribals and villagers. Farmers and tribals are forced to take up arms and join Maoists because whenever they protest against land seizure and exploitation they are silenced with bullets and violence. If the government doesn’t agree to a strong Lokpal, we need to change the way democracy functions. The laws and major decisions need to be made only after taking into account what people and citizens of India want. Parliamentarians must not think that they can make their own decisions once they are elected for five years. If the government does not listen to our demands, we will call for a bigger movement where we need to change the way democracy functions in India. Anna calls it a second freedom struggle. Be prepared for a larger struggle that will go on for years now where we change the way democracy functions."
Amid patriotic songs, the crowd broke into impromptu dancing and singing, giving a festive touch to the morning at the grounds.
Team Anna has raised the pitch by pointing out "four non-negotiable" demands for calling off their jail bharo agitation which included provision for an independent investigating agency for the anti-corruption ombudsman.
In Mumbai, police have fortified the fast venue by deploying 2000 police constables and 200 sub-inspectors of police, six platoons of state reserve force, three Quick Response Team and two Bomb Detection and Disposal Squads.
The ground has six emergency exits, 16 fire extinguishers, six metal detector units and round-the-clock ambulance services. (TOI)