December 29 will be etched in my memory & that of Bombay’s history. The evening when yours truly asked Anna Hazare the question, “Anna aap ko lagta hai ki BJP ne aapko kal sansad mein dhoka diya aur iski vajah se aapki ran niti ghalat hui?” The office driver Tiwari told me, “Mein lifetime woh din nahi bhulunga. Ab dheere dheere public jaan rahi hai yeh Anna ko BJP ka samarthan mil raha hai..bahut achcha sawal kiya apne, arey uska pack up hua…” He had heard, but turned to Kejriwal. I repeated the question by actually taunting him.. “Diya na dhoka, kal raat BJP ne, sansad mein…ghalat hui na apki ran niti…” Anna & Kejriwal had a small discussion. Infuriated Anna came out in public about his political agenda, “Dhokadari paksh Cong hai, Cong ne gaddari ki hai aur hum Cong ke khilaf hai…hum dusrey paksh ke khilaf nahi hai”…excellent, the one point I strongly believed in but had NO evidence to prove it to the world. The man, Anna Hazare himself had spoken these words, got miffed & walked off the stage. Over, for Anna, the press conference was over. Upset with me & the rest of the media, as a result.
But the fact is that the truth was out in the open. A whole new drama of Anna being declared unfit had already been played out the previous night. By then, Mumbai’s journalist fraternity had begun hearing whispers of the health conspiracy. We were ‘informed’ Anna may be shifted to a hospital on the first night he wasn’t. The crowds at the most were at 7000, despite many claims. By then all conspiracy theories were put forward by the Team Anna – Mumbai is sitting with their hands clasped, wearing bangles. The police & govt have ensured that networks of all their cell phones get jammed. That the Airtel tower at Malad had caught fire wasn’t even spoken about nor was that seen as a real cause. Also, while except for Anna & VIPs all the rest of public, including us media were forced to make several diversions. It was for security. But the Anna’s team insisted this was being done deliberately to harass them. They also came up with an innovative idea of taking buses to all stations, “Get people to sit in these buses & bring them to MMRDA. How can Mumbai sit quiet.” It then became one whole ego trip. Something that has simply led to the down fall of a so-called ‘doosri azadi’ second freedom movement…sure..
Yet again Anna’s fast attracted attention of media & politicians from across the country. Dec 27th was the D-Day. Anna was to come to Mumbai and then begin his fast for three days, would have been indefinite had the Parliamentarians not tabled their Lokpal Bill. Now by the time the Parliament had begun it was evident that the Govt was table it, a few days before Anna Hazare went on his fast it was clear the Parliament was extended for 3 days & the discussions, debates et al was to take place ONLY on Lokpal Bill.
Yet Anna went ahead with the fast. A lot had happened in the interim period. A huge drama unfolded over the venue. Firstly it was kept a huge secret whether it would be Delhi, Mumbai and if any of the two then the specific venues. The so-called ‘Gandhian’ (please it’s time people stopped abusing this term) was dissuaded from going to Delhi. Why? Because of the extreme cold Mind you, the late Mahatma Gandhi wore only a hand spun dhoti, NOT laundered with sparkling white, or ironed or starched. He did NOT wear sadra or shirt…he also did NOT fast to extort or even short change himself. Here were given to understand that Anna would not be able to tolerate the cold weather and hence he was requested to sit on a fast in Mumbai.
A completely wrong decision. I actually welcomed it, I remember tweeting about this & also faced the wrath of his followers who abused me. Simple reason, because the first time round there was a lot happening…while it was evident that there was a growing angst among the citizens, rising prices, inflation, more & more news of corruption & scams, the govt seemed taken aback. The stupid mistakes made by the esteemed Home Minister P Chidambaram who nearly made a hero out of a delusional man, the mood was anti-govt.
However in December 2011, the story was different. The Parliament promised, extended the winter session & publicly committed to discussing & debating about JLP Bill. Secondly, Mumbai’s first time venue was ideal. Azad Maidan was perfect, bang opposite the Victoria Terminus it is excellent for commuters. A huge floating population every hour is ensured. Curiosity was immense hence a lot of people came & went. Plenty of Colleges are nearby, as a result the whole buzz about Anna proved effective. Even those commuters who travel fromChurchgate,VTis only 15 minutes walking distance. Most importantly, the timing for the protests was very good. Between 10.00am-6.00pm, as a result the planners of the campaign could bring people in hordes every hour.
Another important development had taken place in the interim period. While the first time was successful, with immense backing from RSS, it wasn’t proved till October. Fresh evidence began coming out about RSS backing, Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief went on record to confirm, Nitin Gadkari the BJP national president supported Bhagwat’s claim. Moreover when we speak of corruption, etc Team Anna’s members began getting exposed. It was finally evident to the general public they too weren’t above board. Involvement of Kiran Bedi in fudging travel re-imbursement claims from NGOs, she defending it was worse, her daughter using OBC certificate for getting admission for medical seat in Manipal college, Kejriwal’s IT fines & non-payments. Even Anna’s former colleagues & friends who alleged the man wasn’t above board. Justice PB Sawant’s report still holds true, he said as regards the accounts & audit, Anna wasn’t given a clean chit. Team Anna also seemed strongly upset with govt’s inclusion of NGOs in the gambit of Lokpal Bill. A sore point with the members of Anna’s team. All of them are connected with some NGO or have their own. Some are facing some allegation or the other. In the interim period news began trickling that Ashoka Foundation had reportedly provided lakhs of funds to Team Anna for various RTIs. As part of their project. News of Ford Foundation supporting the Ramlila ground fast too had appeared.
Everything just came to surface at the same time. Meanwhile the Team Anna & the their outfit in Mumbai the India Against Corruption applied for MMRDA grounds. Now while they claimed to be the organisers, they applied in the name of some other NGO, on their letter head. When the MMRDA made inquiries & asked for clarifications, it came to light that IAC wasn’t even registered. Now this is the same outfit that collected lakhs of rupees from general public in the name of ‘anti-corruption’ but mind you had not even bothered to register itself. This amounts to grave charges against the members – this actually amounts to criminal offence. Yet, they shamelessly asked for discount and when they were refused they tried applying to many other grounds as their venue.
In this whole period the fights between Team Anna erupted here in Mumbai. The Bhrashtachar Virodhi Andolan convenor Bhavesh Patel began to get side-lined by IAC head Mayank Gandhi. Now Mayank is the son of scion of Lok Group, a builder. Sure, most will shrug & say if he is clean then why not. He is being given an office in south Mumbai Dosti Group-another leading builder of Mumbai- in his own complex. The founder of Dosti group told me on-camera “I give full support to Anna, with tan, man dhan…my heart, soul & money…” he went on to tell me that Team Anna has a lot of money and they are comfortable yet he would like to contribute. All claim to be ‘Gandhians.’ Gandhi’s story is something they need to learn.
Patel had got so frustrated with Mayank that at one time he told me that Mayank had actually planned to book a ground in the name of ‘shaadi’ for wedding & then make Anna sit for three days. Here a Mayank tells Anna what to do, in the case of Gandhiji, the famous GD Birla sat at Gandhiji’s feet.
The reason of their conflict was as interesting to me as the conflict itself. It clearly meant the cracks had deepened & that too at the mouth of the impending fast. Ooh lala…I was expecting disaster. As expected IAC went on to making denial for discount an emotional issue. However neither Mayank nor other IAC members had come out honestly to the public confessing that they weren’t a registered outfit. They really under-estimated the judiciary of this land & filed a petition.
The Bombay High Court wrapped Team Anna strongly. Much needed too. They were put in their place rightfully so. The distortions and les were brought to light, including the fact that IAC wasn’t registered. The HC asked what’s become of this money and how can people trust such an organisation. They were rightfully denied right to get discount and book MMRDA in the name of IAC. That is the first time Anna spoke & said it was a wrong move to approach the courts. Not at all shocking from a man who has zero regard for the Constitution of India or the judiciary. This wasn’t the end. The whole fast was managed like a PR event. All the PR persons, name them, Poonawala’s sons, (yes the Derby stud man), many who we’ve seen ‘managing’ events. Anna’s stage was way beyond common person’s reach. Then a no-man’s zone for security, then us, the media with our back sides to the audience, which was totally cut off from Anna. Public isn’t dumb, they can be naïve, and a people’s movement is based on people…here there as a HUGE disconnect. The people were completely ‘kept away.’
The choice of MMRDA too was a error of judgement. Ask around and no sane, practical Mumbaikar will bother going to MMRDA. More so anyone without a vehicle will just not venture into this lonely area where govt offices are there and only rock shows which the rich can afford. This is the popular perception of MMRDA. So was this. The flag seller who made lakhs in August during the Ramlila fast, was broke by the end of the first day. “Very shocking” was what he barely managed to tell. The RSS backed organisation that provided catering services noticed that even despite the Bharatnagar Slum dwellers coming and eating free food for 3 days, they still had sufficient amount of food. Something had gone amiss somewhere.
Anna was moved out under pretext of ill-health. He was taken to Ralegan Siddhi. I had reached hours before him, let me tell you, nobody from his village was excited. This was al waiting to happen. The Sarpanch was absent and so were the otherwise naïve villagers who would call on him. This was a Anna’s solo-journey of a setback & lack of people support. The lies continued. While he was unwell, Anna suffered a major mental set-back. I strongly believe he is taken by the whole idea of ‘sacrifice’ and becoming martyr. However reality taught a lesson. After many days Anna on new year was moved to Sancheti’s Hospital, Pune. It is a hospice for recovering from bone & joints surgeries, accidents. While Anna suffered from so-called lung infection. He was moved to this hospital. On top of that the dr, Sancheti is reported to have said, “Anna shouldn’t be fasting and to recover he needs to go to some unknown destination.” Now I’m not a medical doctor, but sure am aware that there is no scientific basis to such claims.
However few things got further exposed. In the press conference, Anna made strong anti-women’s comments. He said that women who don’t bear children, will never be sensitive to the experience of a delivery like child-bearing women. A completely ridiculous allegation. He should be flogged in the same manner that he believes those who drink alcohol should be. Anna retracted on every threat he had made-sitting on fast in Delhi, surrounding Parliamentarians, campaigning in the 5 states for elections & the famous ‘jail bharo.’ His ridiculously oft-repeated speech that one gets free food in jail, so all should got to jail. That this is the way to fight corruption, many a stupid citizen got carried away. To go to jail one has to have criminal offence & it’s a shame if anyone is proud of that. Else one only gets detained and that’s really what happens in such cases. In the former, your whole life changes, and swear you’re life is f@#$%^d if you have criminal charges on your name.
Anna is self-proclaimed Gandhian, someone who has never believed in non-violence, he has made public this ugly side. Flogging those who drink, defending the slap that a man gave Sharad Pawar, saying ‘why only one.’ Just last night, Anna defended those who resort to violence for running out patience fighting against corruption, they all expose Anna’s dark & is that the real side? There is no excuse for use of violence, when all along the drama and lies of non-violence was what drove this campaign. Slowly his true self is getting exposed in public. I shudder that time will come when people will start looking through his talks and fake ideology.