Anna Hazare, wearing a white cap on a truck, waves to the crowd during a slow-moving procession to a protest venue, in New Delhi, India, Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. Thousands of cheering supporters braved the pouring rain to greet Hazare. – AP Photo

NEW DEHLI: As the drama unfolds in the next fifteen days at the Ramlila Ground in Delhi, India, life for many has changed. Anna Hazare, crusader against corruption in India, has started his fast against corruption as thousands gather to express solidarity with the leader and the cause. Indians, specially the middle class, has found a new meaning to live.

Software enginner Prateek Kumar, attached to the movement since April this year objects to the fact that it is just the middle class who is backing Hazare. “This movement is not just restricted to the middle class, all kinds of people are joining it. Whether it is the taxiwalas, autowalas, thhelawala (cart-pullers) or vendors, all are affected by the lack of a system in our country and now is the time to change it.”

The mood on the ground is colourful and nosiy. Banners being flashed. Slogans being shouted. Patriotic songs playing. Crowds swelling. Students, teachers, and families and of course volunteers. Since January this year the movement has gained unexpected momentum. Shivendra Singh Chauhan, one of the organisers responsible for social media outreach points out, “Initially we had not imagined it to be so big. As we moved forward we kept organizing it better. Through social media we were able to increase the spread of the movement. As the footprints increased, we selected coordinators from among the fans and reached out to many small towns and cities.”

While volunteers are mainly the youth, the working class has come out for candle light marches and rallies. R B S Tomar, a manager in a company has taken leave for a week. He explains, “I have applied for Leave Travel Allowance and there can be no better holiday for me than to be here and join the movement. I come here in the morning and leave by late night. My aim is to fight corruption. If we have pay bribe for making a passport or a new electric connection, then what is the use of having a government? The officials take advantage of our situation and it is our time now to make these officials realise that it will not work anymore.”

Sociologists believe that the whole movement is born as elected representatives have failed the people. – Photo by Ravinder Bawa/Dawn.com

This sentiment is all-pervasive. Radhey Shayam Pehlwan, owner of a fresh juice shop, pledges to be at the venue everyday, “I will extend my support to this cause as it affects us all. When the Lokpal Bill is passed, I will distribute free fresh juice to all my customers that day.”

So what is the Jan Lokpal Bill? The bill, also known as the citizens' ombudsman bill, is a proposed anti-corruption law in India and has been pending for more than forty years. The basic idea of the Lokpal comes from the office of the ombudsman in other countries. People have confidence that this is the instrument to fight corruption and are rallying behind the social activist Anna Hazare to get the law passed. Arunima Dutta, a software engineer explains, “We believe that this bill will solve the basic problem from the roots. It addresses the problem of a common citizen, and since we all can see a solution in this we all come here in our individual capacity. There is no leader who is leading the crowds, they are coming on their own. I am leading her (pointing to her friend) and she is leading someone else. I see India changing after this.”

The ground swell is not just made of adults but children are adding to the crowds too. Sarthak, 8 years, has come all the way from Anna’s villages, Ralegan Siddhi, more than 1500 kilometers from Delhi to support Anna. He forced his father to bring him to Delhi. Standing with two national flags in his hands he says, “Its about my future so I had to be here.” Many school students gathered at Ramlila ground are very sure of what they are doing. Ishita, a class eleventh student from a Delhi school remarks, “We have gathered here to fight for a true India. It is a beginning of new India, during British rule the similar movements happened for freedom from outsider’s control and now this is a fight for freedom from the inner corruption. Corruption is a virus that is griping India and it has to be treated.”

A supporter of India's anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare holds a placard at the site of his hunger strike in New Delhi, India, Saturday, August 20, 2011. – AP Photo

Delhi being the centre of the movement is attracting people from neighbouring states as well. Keeping Anna’s baton alive a group of people from Chandigarh have come here for the weekend. Subir Singh, a teacher in a private school, questions, “We have the resources and we have the manpower but why are we lacking behind? It is due to corruption, so we have to fight against it. This bill can change the country so we are here to support this bill and this movement.” Sumit Khanna, a businessman from the same group, states, “We have been seeing this for last four months on our television sets and reading about it in newspapers. We decided that instead of watching it on TV again why not come here for the weekend. We want to fight against corruption.”

And many who those who have not come to Delhi are keeping the the spirit of the movement alive in smaller towns and cities. In Delhi various institutions are showing solidarity with the cause in their own campuses. Apollo hospital, one of the leading multi specialty hospital had all their doctors marching around the hospital with a Gandhi cap and a flag in their hands. The sales of the Gandhi topi has increased and many vendors are found selling these caps, t-shirts, flags and batches on the streets.

So will this movement reach any logical end? Miranda Simons, from the advertising industry has faith. “We cannot say if this agitation will result in corruption vanishing fully, but there will be a difference definitely,” says she.

Some people after experiencing this difference, have decided to connect with the crusade. Nitesh Singh, a naval officer, applied for his driving license within 45 minutes. “It was history for me. Never could you get any government document made without the agents and the go-betweens asking for money. Thanks to this movement, I was able to get my job done without any mediator and without shelling out any extra buck.”

Social observers, media critics, political analysts are all scrutinising this phenomenon. Some are skeptical while some are surprised by the enormity of it. Rahul Deb, a senior journalist comments, “This movement is for a better life; for a new India. If this movement is not taken to its logical end it will be a tragedy for this country. After all people are demanding a large scale fundamental systemic change.”

Sociologists believe that the whole movement is born as elected representatives have failed the people. But even in this historical moment the elected representatives and their parties are indulging in blame games. While the congress spokerperson Manish Tewari in a press conference hints that ‘saffron forces’ are supporting Hazare; the opposition party, Bhartiya Janta Party’s spokesperson Niramla Sitaraman retorted, saying, “the government has misread and mishandled the situation and at several junctures misled the people.”

No one knows the truth of the political parties be, but the truth being witnessed in India at this time cannot be ignored. The next few days will be crucial for Anna Hazare to keep the momentum on and crowds swelling.

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