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…