Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Late afternoon at Ramlila Maidan – eye of the political storm

School students, houewives, shopkeepers pour in, life on the street goes on

New Delhi: The irregular oblong Ramlila Maidan surrounded by the Delhi Stock Exhcange on one side, the office of the Mahanagar Sanchar Nigam Limited (MTNL) and the Zakir Husain College, the oldest educational institution, on the other, is ringed by nearly a hundred OB vans of scores of TV news channels on the outside, and inside the ground by water tankers. The police regulate the incoming and outgoing crowd through small entrances. People join the queue at these entrances.

The loudspeaker from the stage blares about Sharmila Irom, the Manipuri dissident who has been on a fast for the last 10 years demanding the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and calls a person from Manipur to speak.

The roads on all sides are not too big. The traffic moves and school students, housewives, neighbourhood folk troop into the ground from all sides, waving the national flag. At three in the afternoon, the groups are still small, manageable. They fall into the queue to get in even as they chant intermittently, “Vande Mataram”, and “Ek do, teen, chaar, band karo bhrashtaachaar”, a play on a popular on a popular 1980s number that propelled Madhrui Dixit to fame, “Ek, do teen, chaar”. The group is small and the chant is at a slow beat.

The crowd at Ramlila Maidan is swelling. People are pouring into the ground, rather casually. It is the trusting Indian crowd, that comes out of interest and curiosity, a sense of concern about the situation – corruption, Anna Hazare, inflation. They know that the government of the day has failed. And they are willing to gather round Hazare and his Lokpal activists.

There is a sense of trust in the eyes and faces of these people turning into the maidan, which is touching. These people are not ideologues, not political activists. They are literally people on the street, who live in small houses in crowded neighbourhoods, work as school teachers, clerks, small shopkeepers, vendors.

They are also not the politically articulate people. They know their day-to-day problems and they want the government and the leaders to solve the problems. They seem to trust Anna Hazare in a tacit way. They are not saying that he will solve the problems. They are saying that what he is saying about corruption is right.

There is a sense of the political mela, without much of the management that political parties and organisations bring to it. The Lokpal activists have so far brought some efficiency to the protest rally, the efficiency born of voluntarism.

Meanwhile, people pour in out of the Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan Hospital, the G.B.Pant Hospital, the Guru Nanakdev Eye Hospital nearby. As the iftaar time draws near, Muslims are out shopping and taking things home. Life in the area surrounding Ramlila Maidan seems to follow its routine in the same way as the traffic does, sometimes slowly as the rallyists move in and out with their flags and drums and chants.

In the middle of it all, at the centre of the Ramlila Maidan is the eye of the political storm – the fasting Anna Hazare. Life on the street around Ramlila Maidan goes on as it should even as political masters in central Delhi and on the dais put their heads together to solve the crisis.

The Gandhi-cap with “I am Anna” is selling for Rs 10 a piece, and the streetvendors are hawking them on the roads leading to Ramlila Maidan and at the venue itself.


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