It was a circus at the MMRDA ground; amusing costumes, free food became high points of an otherwise dull day.
It’s mid-morning and there’s a faint trace of the winter fog in the MMRDA ground. Anna is not on stage as he’s too ill.
There’s about a 100 people sitting right in front of the stage, waiting, listening to impassioned poetry recitals. From time to time they break into half-hearted chants of ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Anna tum lage raho, hum tumhare saath hai’ (Anna you keep on fighting, we are with you).
Actor Dalip Tahil takes to stage to announce his support, and to lend some celebrity sheen to the rally. However, his microphone-enhanced voice gets drowned in the raucous cheers of the crowd.
Nearby, one can see one Kailash Singh Tawar, a portly Punjabi dressed as Hanuman, leading a rag-tag procession around the maidan. It’s a bit of a circus, with people dressed as Gandhi and Rajnikant drawing the attention of an increasingly bored crowd.
At 2.30pm, Anna finally makes an appearance on stage, but is greeted by a mere 1,500 people gathered at the ground. But those who have turned up are relatively comfortable, even as some can be seen bypassing the lines to use the ditch behind to relieve themselves.
Also, to quell their hunger pangs, they have had more than enough vada-pavs in breakfast and puri-aloo for lunch. Only for a while there is some water shortage, but soon a tanker arrives. The protesters also have a well-staffed emergency centre, replete with doctors and a physical therapists volunteering.
In the corner, a well-dressed man holds up the tricolour. He’s Raj Mody, an insurance claims adjuster from Canada who has been fasting with Anna since Tuesday. Stating that he left India as he was “tired of dealing with corrupt systems”, Mody says, “Anna’s movement really speaks to my frustration at corruption.” Though a little deflated at the turnout, Mody says, “The venue is not ideal, as it’s too far from the station.”
Outside, India Against Corruption volunteers, armed with a fleet of massive buses, are trying their best shot at the losing numbers game. Malay Kenia, 27, an engineer volunteering for the IAC, alleges the police along with certain parties were discouraging people to reach the maidan. “We have got information that certain parties are pressuring the auto-drivers in the Bandra and Kurla areas to not ply fares to the MMRDA ground. Also, the police have been turning people away after claims that the fast is over,” he adds.
Malay, who lost his job as a professor at the Rajiv Gandhi College in Versova for blowing the whistle on corrupt practices relating to exam papers, has a personal stake in the movement. “You know how Mumbaikars are. Though caught up in the rat race and their vexed personal lives, Mumbaikars must come forward now, or risk losing the right to criticise corrupt politicians ever again. Today, I’m ashamed to be a Mumbaikar,” he says.