Tag Archives: Azad Maidan

A fast broken

  On December 27, 2011, yours truly asked a question that angered Anna Hazare to walk off the stage at MMRDA in Mumbai. It’s taken me a year to write what really happened.. i’d been mulling, because i didn’t really want to rub it in that ‘I’ was responsible in packing him off.  However, i do think it needs to be etched in my time and documented for sure!

Actually, the day began on rather political a note. Apart from the usual newsroom politics, a lot was happening in Mumbai and inside the Parliament. It was the second day since the media-hero, flogging-loving man, who the nation enjoys flirting with, portrayed as modern-day Mahatma (how I despise this), Anna, had begun his Bombay rally.

It was another fast, again proclaimed unto death. This time the scenario was DIFFERENT. People blamed the venue for lack of support. No, Mumbai is a city that tests a person’s true worth. “A hired crowd doesn’t maketh a movement,” are my words. It is NOT misplaced or personal allegation. Even the first time it was NO spontaneity that inspired Dabbawalas, cobblers, domestic workers and all who’d come to Azad Maidan during the Ramlila protests. They were ‘brought’ everyday as part of an organised strategy. It worked then.

Meanwhile, a lot happened in the interim, between August and December 2011. The venue (MMRDA grounds) apart, the organisation IAC, itself went through trouble. While agitating against govt, there was immense internal disturbance. Moreover public dismay- Most of the demands made by Anna Hazare were met by the UPA2. Govt agreed for a special session on Lokpal Bill, they persuaded Anna to NOT hold his fast, the reason for this fast was not declared, the oft-repeated Lokpal  else….well people had work to do, a v important fact forgotten by the organisers.

More worrisome was that Team Anna faced immense leadership problems.The stories of Mayank Gandhi, allegedly connected to a builder, began circulating. I went across, spoke to an old time developer who went on record to say their group had donated large amounts of money to IAC and given them office premisesnews reports in regional languages appeared more than English, again the bias was evident.

Within their group two major factions began developing. Mayank Gandhi group and Bhavesh Patel group. Earlier Bhavesh would go, network with public, different associations and unions of workers, media. He is considered a good organiser, besides v reliable for Anna. There again, another activist went on record to accuse Bhavesh of corruption. Anna trusted his lieutenants a lot, to the extent, many a follower and villagers, told me in Ralegan Siddhi that they began to believe Anna had become arrogant and had fallen prey to these greedy hawks. “Zara thamba madam, thodyach mahinyat sagla baher padel,” (Wait for few months, everything will spill out), the villagers had told me.

By then I’d made few trips to Ralegan Siddhi, had a few run-ins with his PA-cum-man Fridy Suresh Pathare. What do I say that can describe him? A village lad, tapped well by the mentor, did EVERYTHING for him, took brickbats, few hits, gave few too…suddenly this village lad was being pursued by the who’s who and became the mover and shaker for media. He was seen as a ‘setter’ in the village, reportedly. While the villagers mutely watched the drama unfold. (He has parted ways with Anna. According to the village grapevine, his own doing). None of this was a surprise.

Come December, at the last minute organisers began hunting for venues. MMRDA-which mind you is an exhibition venue, that too at BKC where people go to work out of compulsion, was zeroed upon. Most media had been totally besotted by Anna by then, so not surprisingly, conveniently forgot the Bombay HC rules for organising protests. At Azad Maidan, you can protest only from 10am-6pm. Suddenly Indians who had begun fantasizing about the concept of ‘revolution’ and Anna’s staunch supporters refused to use logic. The organisers screamed ‘conspiracy’ for being denied permission to hold protests.

In all this, Mayank Gandhi’s trust, which was unregistered till then, applied for the permission to hold a fast unto (limited period)…oh yes, in addition, they asked for a tax rebate! At a time when the organisers, Anna and other leaders accused the govt of being cruel, their own breach of rule caught them on a wrong foot. An ugly oversight, or deliberate evasion of rules, they screamed as political conspiracy. Finally some Anna’s friends and other members booked MMRDA grounds in the name of another legal trust.

I reiterate, “a hired crowd don’t maketh a revolution.” Come December 27, on the first day the stage which was 30 feet high, 100 feet away from the crowds, with couch, beddings and his followers were ready for the modern ‘Gandhi’ to do a namaste and start his speech. Initially only handful followers, mostly comprised of IAC members, IAC PR and Anna’s hard core followers were the audience on the grounds. It was blamed on a working day and all were promised, “big crowds expected soon.” Then the Bharat Nagar slum residents too were asked to be present everyday, free food was bonus. So while they made a token appearance on the first morning, thereafter it was free food and playing games for them. There began the end of a media-madeIndia’s crowd puller, oh sorry, a movement.

The description I’ve given of the venue and the stage is NO exaggeration. NO public movement can be ever so disconnected from the very public that is wanting by the organisers. The division in leadership and whatever said and done, the complete lack of vision on part of Anna was evident. They failed to capitalise on public anger and this spelt doom for Anna. He took it badly, as he couldn’t get over the fact that he was ‘rejected.’ He was a repeat, day in and day out.

Second day morning, Anna looked depressed. He couldn’t digest the fact that he was being rejected. Sadly, he’s  been manipulated and used maximally by others/aides even today. It seemed that they may have fed him a lot of false assurances. It came to such a stage, that by afternoon the organisers began sounding delusional. Blaming the state govt for jamming networks, when one service provider admitted in their release they were facing network problems due to technical failure. Moreover, the organisers sent volunteers forcing public to board buses to attend Anna’s fast. This spoilt their whole show as the word spread wildly. Meanwhile, we were told, Anna would hold a press conference. So while most rteporters scrambled rushing to the stage, i sat in our channel tent.

Believe me I was bored. The reporters were dime a dozen, who’d come from Delhi clamouring to ask ‘Anna’ questions…. So I rightly left the press conference coverage to the Delhi colleagues from our channel (ours outnumbered others). Suddenly something spurred me as I heard the oft-repeated accusations, statements and the speech. They were as old as my career. I had to push myself to the stage, where I stood there with my colleagues. A Hindi channel meanwhile tried to turn it into their channel conference, which angered others…my colleagues and other Delhi senior journos asked few questions. Something spurred me to ask a question. I had to grab the mike and introduce myself.  I taunted Anna. “Anna kal raat sansad mein apko Bhajpa ne dhoka diya aur isliye apki Mumbai mein ranneeti ghalat ho gayi, kya sahi hai?”

Now Anna is hard of hearing. Depending on his mood he wears his hearing aide. He asked me to repeat the question, which Arvind kejriwal said aloud. I meanwhile teased him, “toh kya yeh sahi hai na, BJP ne apko dhoka diya, Apki ranneeti ghalat hui na?” It hackled him, Anna got up and for the first time he went on record to expose his ideology. He said, “Cong paksh ek dhokadari paksh hai, hum Cong ke khilaf hai, Cong ek gaddar paksh hai.” And to everybody’s shock, Anna walked off the stage. I went on to say, “arre Anna, arre woh gaye..” yes, the fact is Anna was angry and he walked off. The question broke his resolve, his Mumbai fast and eventually impacted his movement too. Many veteran political reporters, right-wing fanatics and Anna-lovers blamed me for being pro-Congress. Sorry to disappoint everyone. I’m fucking loyal to my profession –Journalism. I’m paid to ask questions and i do a bloody good job. NOBODY prompted me to ask this question… Anna finally blurted out the truth and the aim of his movement, which all wanted to know…

I’ve NOTHING personal against Anna or his movement. Last October I’d broken the story with visual evidence of Baba Ramdev meeting RSS top brass on behalf of Anna. The BJP had gone on record time and again for supporting Anna and NOT denying he was leading their anti-govt movement. Except Anna, all had admitted of being pushed by RSS. This was the reason I wanted the truth to be exposed. Nobody can play around with public. Point is, this movement was as good as the politicians, against whom Anna and group had been agitating. While the govt has behaved like an ass, not to care about the public, inability to tackle inflation, rising social problems, so did Anna. To lie to public and yet get to enjoy a halo of being a leader was waiting to get exposed. This all wasn’t about eradicating corruption, it wasn’t about eventually how to deal with a problem that has escalated to cut-backs or lethargy in work, it was all about the BJP projecting him to pass the Jan LokPal bill and being the face for RSS. Also, him being anti-Congress! And this isn’t a political conspiracy?

After that, I was forced to go to Anna’s village. The next morning, the villagers who had told me, ‘wait everything will spill out,” continued to watch mutely. Nobody was there  to greet Anna, not even the world-famous Sarpanch.  And this is the reality…

Politics of riots

August 11, Saturday was the date fixed by several Muslim organizations to join the call to protest the killings of Muslims in Assam riots & Myanmar. Raza Academy and SamajWadi Party Legislator Abu Asim Azmi gave the call for protest. The venue was Azad Maidan, the only place for protests as issued by the Bombay High Court.

Obviously like all politically backed protests, this too entailed filling trains, buses, truckloads of Muslims from every nook and corner. None of this being wrong, because that is how a success of any political rally is determined. And mind you has been done, whether it be Balasaheb Thackeray rally, a Sonia Gandhi rally or in support of Muslims. Hence the call to join the protest was given long before.

We journalists were already aware that messages were doing rounds for nearly eight days before the rally. These smsz were doing rounds and were forwarded by one and all. Obviously if the journalists and ‘khabris,’ or police informers had got them, the police and home department wouldn’t have missed it.

We are all being watched, is something a top police officer had told me eight years ago. “With every new development in our technology, tapping, tracking will only get easier,” were his words. Obviously when sending out messages like telling people they want justice for Muslims attacked would be tracked, is our basic presumption, in case for some odd reason our Mumbai police, slated to be second only to the Scotland Yard would be told by khabris. Moreover the khabris from media would surely have forwarded these messages to the Home Minister and many a police officer.

We were expecting heavy police plus additional security deployment and presence. With each passing day information coming in was the rally would be getting immense response. Meanwhile there was a video doing rounds, which was circulated among the youth especially. It was a video showing the alleged atrocities of Muslims. This video was incriminating, we journalists exchanged information on it. This information we got much later post-riots. But surely those who were close to the organizers knew the video doing rounds.

Meanwhile many developments had taken place in our Parliament and outside. The Prime Minister visited the riot-affected areas and so did Congress High Command, Sonia Gandhi. Across the border, Pakistani newspapers reported that the alleged atrocities inflicted on Muslims in Myanmar were not erroneously reportedly. However the protest was finalized. Meanwhile, there was a lot of hue and cry on twitter, newspapers alleging that the television channels had IGNORED covering Assam riots and killings of Muslims. There was a simmering anger against the television news channels.

On the other hand, NCP had issued ultimatums to Congress on many issues and as an ally of UPA at the centre and DF govt in Maharashtra was upset. The NCP president was said to have tendered his resignation and had refused to be part of the UPA2 government. NCP holds key portfolios in Maharashtra, which includes the home ministry. The tussle between NCP and Congress is constant, part of their co-existence that each party can’t live with the other peacefully and can’t live with the other.

So while the protest was being seen closely, the Home Minister didn’t give orders to the police officials to preventive measures, make arrests before the rally or deploy additional force. The protest was obviously against Congress, for the lop sided policies, a criticism that NCP didn’t have to brave.

On Saturday morning itself people had begun coming to Azad Maidan. By afternoon crowds in hordes began taking different modes of transport to gather at Azad Maidan. In fact, interestingly, after Kasab’s terror attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008 Mumbai city had seen more security measures being taken, especially at our railway stations. So one would’ve thought that these security measures would have been tightened on the day of protest. Sadly, that was not to be.

By the time the rally began, inside the venue speeches were made and a memorandum was drawn-up to be signed by all Muslim organizations for certain measures to be taken to avert such violent incidents in future. This is the irony.

When the leader a senior Maulana gave his speech and came out of the venue, the television news reporters asked him to speak what transpired inside Azad Maidan, as media was not allowed to enter or cover it. The reporters there obviously were under pressure to report the details and all channels had deployed their OB vans

The rally was given more coverage by the regional channels. As the reporters began demanding some reaction, few youth around the Maulana got angered. They pointedly told the media to mind their own business and if they were so concerned about what was said inside, they should have been more concerned about the Muslims dead in Assam. The youth implored the media for their lack of initiative in reporting the Assam riots. It was a heated conversation, with media obviously being outnumbered. As the argument got more heated, some youth headed towards the OB vans and torched them. 3 channels incurred a huge loss as their vans were torched.

Immediately after that some of the youth present had also been carrying weapons. Meanwhile the police on duty were helpless and equally at risk like the media. The angry mob targeted the media and police. The police obviously had to take some stern steps. The fact is there wasn’t any fire brigade, in case they needed to throw water on the protestors, no tear gas at that time. The police seemed under-prepared and lesser equipped to deal with the riot-like situation. The word of torching reached across the city; soon some of protestors resorted to violent means and pelted stones at the media and police.

Meanwhile the media persons on duty obviously were at risk but fulfilled their responsibility of extensive coverage. They were helpless, attacked now from both sides, the mob and police. By then the situation had reached a peak. The legislator Azmi even defended this anger, along with Raza Academy, whose leaders that seemed to have vanished from the spot.

Meanwhile a minister from the DF government too had supported this rally and this included instructions that no protestor shall be touched. But as the situation got out of hand, the state government was caught off-guard and more over came across as spineless. The violence was condemned by all. Suddenly the police commissioner, home minister, other ministers and importantly the chief minister swung into last minute cover-up action. Extra rapid action force, riot-combat force were rushed and within 40 minutes the situation was brought under control. By then over 40 were injured, 3 reported dead and extensive loss of property. OB vans worth lakhs of rupees torched and many a BEST buses damaged.

Moreover the saddest was that few politicians tried to hold the city to ransom for petty political gimmicks. Now while Raza Academy, Abu Azmi and the DF government needs to be accountable for their complete failure to tackle this protest, the fact is time and again EVERY political party has reaped benefits in a riot.

Beginning with 1984, Congress failed to protect the Sikhs after the assassination of former PM, Indira Gandhi. Many a riot thereafter, which we can remember, coming to the 1992. Deliberate pogroms that were instigated against the Muslims after the December 6, 1992 demolition of Babri Masjid. Even resorting to taking help of the underworld elements was reported in then Bombay. The Sena –BJP was responsible for them. Again later few times riots were reported. A deliberate instigation by certain politicians of all political parties has been the usual ploy to create a rift in an already vulnerable society.

Petty politics in the fragile alliances have dictated thought and action, rather than wisdom or caution. A Congress minister who wanted to show his domination over the city demanding no obvious police presence as a deterrent also speaks poorly of the Home minister and his party, the NCP. This is lowest politics in Maharashtra has reached. It is time the government becomes accountable. They have promised an inquiry, but we read reports of how the commissioner of police pulled up a ACP for making arrests after the riots. The complete lack of administrative response to a festering situation is seen and obvious question was this decisively allowed by the government, police and politicians concerned?

After the 26/11 attacks at CST, security scanners are put in place. There are CCTV cameras and the station is being monitored. According to reports, the cctv camera footage shows that some youth were seen carrying petrol cans, some others seen carrying weapons. Now common sense dictates that those monitoring this camera footage have some sense of security.

There must be a mechanism and steps to be followed if any breach of security is seen. What are these steps? Were they followed? Were any calls for help, security cover made by anyone from the control room to RPF, police or even to Azad Maidan police station? If not, why? Were the scanners working? Why did they not give out beeper sounds if weapons were carried through? There are police constables near these scanners, did they force open bags, identify the weapon carriers and take them aside? Was anyone questioned? There is only one answer for all above question a NO.

The biggest flaw, which is why it makes me believe this politicization of a fragile situation was deliberate, is because NO preventive action was taken. The smsz were NOT tracked, the source still isn’t known. Who circulate them, why no preventive arrests were made? Why wasn’t Azmi’s movements restricted? Why was Raza Academy people not taken for questioning? Pathetic collapse of administration and policing resulted in more police getting injured. The complete lackadaisical approach only reiterates that the whole incident wreaks of political conspiracy.

I do hope the investigations are conducted honestly and those responsible for this riot are put behind bars. This politicization of sentiments has aided in polarizing a community that already has faced immense atrocities in this city and country.

Time and again playing on religious sentiments, the ramifications are such that we will see them spurt at different times across the country. Moreover the complete distrust people have in the politicians can only lead to more chaos, as the greed for appeasing for vote banks has long cost this nation a lot.