Musings on 'Ramlila square'  

Posted by Praveen in ,

The India against corruption movement version 2.0 has reached a point where all that is left is a victory lap from Kiran Bedi. The fast might get over tomorrow, but the real work remains- the process of deliberations and arriving at something which is not as downright sloppy as the Govt's version or bordering on the authoritarian as the Jan Lok Pal. The purpose of this blog is something else though, a lens view of how people generally reacted to the movement and also the various other things which were very much part of the movement.

Last time around when Anna went to fast for the first time, I was also there on the first day, fasting at the Freedom Park in Bangalore. But then within two days, I started having my own doubts about the movement. So, on August 16th, when the second phase started, I decided to step back and watch from a distance. I guess the rationality that comes automatically from being one step away from both sides helps to judge the movement better.

I set out to the Chennai centre of the movement to study how the people are generally reacting to the movement. It was also a chance to know the thought process of those who are coming out to support the movement. Following are some of the scenes from in and around the protest venue. And, some general thoughts on the various facets of the movement.


The entry point resembled a wayside shop with the volunteers trying hard to woo people in. Some pretended not to see them, some just shrugged and walked away. Some had a look of contempt. Some others were ecstatic at having got an opportunity to 'fight' corruption.

I have better things to do!

No, I didn't hear you calling...I din't see you guys too :D

glass palaces are shielded ...Hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing.

this way...

Building blocks of tomorrow....or illegal construction?
The protest venue in Chennai was an under construction building.

I walked in. Various counters were setup infront of the under construction building, which was the venue for the fast. You could register yourself with the movement by sharing your mail id and phone number. Probably a commentary on the support base of this movement. I wrote in my fake details as am still being subjected to a flurry of SMSes after I signed up the last time in Bangalore.

Then there was the donation cum sales desk, with this board proclaiming "SALE!SALE!". From 'I am Anna' t-shirts and caps to bumper stickers of IAC, this counter had it all. Your one stop shop for 'revolutionary dress materials'.

The social media served as one of the fuels of this movement and so there was an active social media centre too, with 3-4 volunteers working on facebook and twitter round the clock.

The People
Our focus turned to the people sitting on the fast. We began talking to some of them.

This journalist working with a Tamil daily was even "prepared to die" for Anna.


Then there was Sivadas Yogi.

There is more to Sivadas Yogi than the long beard, the saffron outfit and the radiant smile. He is someone who walks the talk, literally. He doesn’t belong to Chennai. He came all the way from Haridwar, on foot. At 64, he prefers to push the limits rather than spend time reading a book in a reclining chair. This man began his journey on January 14th, much before the anti-corruption movement gathered steam. The walk itself was a campaign, as Yogi spread his ideas against corruption wherever he set foot. The seven months on the road has taken him to the length and breadth of the country. He says he used to walk 30 kilometres daily. When asked where he used to sleep, he smilingly said, “National Highways”. After that walk of 6000 odd kilometers, he straightaway joined the indefinite fast at LB road, Thiruvanmiyur. On the 10th day of the fast yesterday, Yogi was much weaker when compared to the first day. But the smile and the spirit were intact. Having said all that, I wonder why yogis and swamis are attracted to activism these days!

AppaIndruvel, who came alone from the other end of Chennai to protest. On the second week, all his family members came to visit him at the fast venue. Even he was visibly tired when I went back on the 11th day. And he had grown a thicker beard too.


I didn't talk to this man. I still can't decipher the meaning of this look.

I dream of protest marches..


something will happen..



The Television spectacle!

The Television channels played a big part in the movement. It almost bordered on the absurd when they went overboard with the coverage. I quit watching TV pretty long time back. From the 'always on' TV at the college canteen I gauged one fact that, in the last 2 weeks, they covered nothing else. All 5 headlines on most of these days were related to Anna and the movement. I am not exaggerating when I say that I didn't see absolutely anything else covered in these channels. This, at a time when there was so much happening, from the latest oil grab in Libya under the garb of a revolution to the unmarked graves with thousands buried, in Kashmir. And, even the coverage of the Anna movement had nothing to write home about. Shallow debates and twitter updates of celebrities talking about Anna, masquerading as news, were the order of the day. Also, the screen split into 9 or 10 panels with the debates ending up as conversations in the Tower of Babel. Times Now and Arnab Goswami best exemplified this TV fuelled revolution. Loud mouthed, partisan coverage subverted meaningful discussions on the bill. Sharad Yadav hit the bulls eye with his clever jab at Arnab today in the Parliament. Times Now was the preferred channel at most protest venues, for reasons best left unexplained.

The aimless...

what am I doing here??!!!why am I holding this??

hmm...maybe!

wired...connected....

There were many who aimlessly wandered in without knowing head or tail about the Lok pal bill. There were groups of friends who came just to have a good time, as observed by a friend who stays near the protest venue. One of these days I saw a group of guys walking on the road with the tri colour painted on their faces and crying out "Bharat Matha ki Jai". I had a sense of dejavu, of coming out of the chinnaswamy stadium last year, after India's series victory against Australia. And the stories about drunk flag waving biker gangs in Delhi as well as near Marina beach here in Chennai are quite disturbing. But not as disturbing as the sight of one of India's biggest crooks, the man with a ponytail who runs that famous management institute which urges us to think beyond IIMs, delivering a speech at RamLila maidan yesterday. Wonder why Anna and his friends give space to such dubious characters! But I dont really subscribe to the cliched criticism of the middle class who are the major strength of the movement. Atleast some of them are in it with good intentions and also with a thorough understanding of what it is all about. So, a generalised criticism of the great Indian middle class is unwarranted for.

As I was walked out through the flurry of OB vans and the chatter of reporters, I still coundn't make up my mind on how good this movement actually was. Sivadas Yogi, the man who walked from Haridwar to Chennai, perhaps signifies the signs of our times, a spurt in activism by the common man. Whether it augurs well for the strength of our democracy is a moot question. But whatever is the outcome of this anti-corruption campaign or whichever side you are on, you can’t help applauding the spirit of men like this Yogi. Feats like his transcend the ephemeral and sometimes over the top movement itself. At the same time, one cant help thinking about the naivety all around, regarding the workings of parliamentary democracy. A first lesson towards understanding this can be done by acknowledging the fact that this movement can't be compared to the revolutions named after sweet smelling flowers that played out in Tahrir square and elsewhere. Many even doesn't seem to have an idea of how lucky we are to be living in this democracy. There are status messages updated daily with ideas like "India needs someone like Hitler", "All politicians are crooks. Kill 'em all"(an idea reflected even by our news channels) etc. The focus on science and engineering in our education system seems to have affected the new generation's history and civics knowledge. Existence of thoughts like these are something that our 'civil' society as well as the 'made to look uncivil' society needs to ponder on. On a lighter note, as my friend quipped, "All this is because of that rang de basanti!" If you go through the history of this blog, you can stumble on some 'rang de basanti' fuelled posts of 'revolutionary ideas' too. Thankfully, I've no such illusions now. But even given all this, it can't be denied that some kind of movement like this was needed to wake up this government which is so drunk on power. Let's not have any illusions about corruption disappearing from tomorrow. For that, each of us needs to get our own houses in order.

As I got out of the gate, the volunteers were still pleading at people to get in and support the movement..."oru sign podungaaa(please put one sign)", so the cry went..

please get out of the bus and sign...he seems to say.


pleeeease staaap maaadam!

ok..wats going on!?

Here's a video that I compiled from the protest venue...