Between the ruling class and the cattle class is now emerging another class, the candle class. This is what I christen the new class of people who are out on streets with candles at the drop of a cap (hats are out, caps are in vogue as you know). As a reporter in a newspaper, my job demands that I make my presence felt in places where I am assigned to be present despite my ideological contradictions with the issue... no complaints. Anyway, one such recent series of events was the Anna Hazare/ Lokpal protests in Hyderabad. I spent a considerable amount of time at various protest places recording the events at the venue. I was, least to say, overwhelmed to see a thousand people gathered for a protest near the Husain Sagar late in the evening one day.
Chants of Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai reverberated across the lake. While students, young professionals, senior citizens stood there with candles shouting slogans hailing the country, the patriotism generated gave me goose bumps. My cynicism for the protest aside, it was amazing to see so many people gather for a cause. The lake looked magnificent with the warmth of a thousand candles lit by its side. As I looked around trying to sink in the enthusiasm of the protestors, I spotted Nagaraju.
Nagaraju-- I place his age around 8 years-- had sunk in the fervour of the place and was running all along the protest venue with a candle stuck to a cardboard in his hand. The ensuing conversation between me and the little boy outweighed the overwhelming patriotism built by slogan-shouters around me. After the boy tired himself out running with the candle, I approached him. The dialogue (in Telugu) went like this—
Me: Why are you here?
Him: My house is in the opposite lane. I saw people here, so I came.
Me: Why are you carrying the candle in your hand?
Him: I like candles. It’s nice to light them.
Me: Mmm.. that’s nice. Why do you think all these people here are holding candles?
Him: Who knows? (thinks for a moment)... it seems somebody got beaten up somewhere. So these people are supporting him.
Me: Who got beaten up, where?
Him: Didn’t you watch TV? They are showing the man’s picture on TV. (thinks again and adds).. he wasn’t beaten up, he was arrested.. I don’t know why.
He then shows me the banners around, points out to Anna Hazare’s picture and tells me that he is the man arrested.
Me: (totally impressed) Do you know his name?
Him: Mm... no. It is written here on my badge.
Points out to his badge which says “Support Lokpal”
Him: His name is...mm... Lokpal. See the badge?
Me: Lokpal sure sounds like a nice name...but that’s not his name. His name is Anna Hazare.
He doesn’t like my intervention with the name as Anna Hazare seemed a complicated name for him to repeat .He just nods.
Me: What’s your name? Which school do you go to?
Him: Nagaraju. My school is nearby.
Me: Did you come here with your parents?
Him: I came alone... (with pride) I take care of vehicles in the parking lot here in the evenings.
Me: (stumped) Ok...what does your father do?
Him: He passed away.
Him: She works as a labourer
I point to two college students standing nearby holding placard and candles and tell him that they would be able to explain to him why they are holding candles and that he should know why they are here. I and Nagaraju approach the guys with candles. I tell them that the boy wants to know why everyone here is holding candles. So could they please tell him?
As the two guys stand there without a reply, I have now churned Nagaraju’s impatience. He tells me that he wants to teach me how to pass my finger through the flame without getting it burnt... and oh...there is print on his T-shirt... would it get burnt if he held the candle near the print?
I tell him that if anybody sees me let him take up either of these activities, I will be thrashed. So Nagaraju could you please throw the candle and run back home? Meanwhile, the candle blows off due to breeze. He is now so-not-pleased with me. “It’s nice to pass your finger through the flame. You distracted me and now the candle has blown off,”
Before I could reply, he runs from the place and disappears into the crowd of slogans. I hope nobody gives him another candle.
Day 2, Venue 2:
Slogan-shouting protestors have formed a circle and somewhere from inside the crowd I hear the organisers prompting slogans over the mic. Since the protest was open to everyone, it was hard to find out who organised it and brought the crowd together. I try to jostle my way in and reach the interior ring of the crowd. It appeared to me like the Chakravyuha, a war tactic adopted by our kings in the bygone era. Suddenly somebody pushes me out, “Get out, you cannot come so close to the organisers. Move back,” OK chivalrous young man, that was rude.
“Who are you?” another guy asks.
I show my “PRESS” ID card.
“Oh... sorry madam.. don’t mind him. He doesn’t know anything,”
“I want to meet one of your organisers please,”
“He...He...Woh kya hai na madam...there is hierarchy.. .first the volunteers, then members, then organisers and the organisation president. I am a volunteer. You can ask me what you want,”
(very well...this sure looks like a democratic protest...f***k you)
“I want to meet the organisers” (persistence is the mantra)
The guy who asked me to get out was still shouting at me from behind. “Didn’t I tell you earlier? Move out and come back after 9 30 pm,” Could I punch him in his face? A glare was all I could afford. Getting to the organisers was my focus.
The other guy responds. Hee hee.. .ignore him madam. He is not even one of the volunteers. He is here from sometime shouting slogans and trying to show-off.
“Can I meet your organisers please?”
“Let’s get out of here and talk madam, I will ask one of the organisers to come out,” Phew! Thank you!!
While I waited for the organisers, someone was saying on the mic that the government had made a mockery of democracy. Vande Mataram chorus followed...
Day 2, Venue 3:
A group of retired senior citizens are on hunger strike in support of Anna and Lokpal. When I reached the place, it was swarming with television crews and newspaper reporters. All eyes were on one of the ministers of the opposition party who dropped into the protest venue unexpectedly. He spoke for nearly 20 minutes and threatened the government of “serious” consequences if any harm was done to Anna. Applause followed. He called the present government useless and with another round of threat and another round of applause, he was gone. TV crews, reporters followed suit.
The minister, it seems, struck the wrong chord with few of the elderly gentlemen who had sacrificed their breakfast and lunch for the protest. While I hung around jotting down names of people, a visibly annoyed protestor walked up to the dais and picked up a quarrel with the organisers for allowing the minister to step into the place. On finding me there with a notepad and pen in hand, he figured that I was one of the mediapersons and explained to me the reason for his anger. “We are sitting here from morning without food. This minister walks in and all the cameras are on him. Everything we did from morning is now a waste. They will put his photo in the paper, not ours. Tell me, isn’t it true? Whose photo will you print?”
Oh-ho...umm. “I don’t know whose photo will appear, Sir...” Ok, I partially understand his predicament. The minister was there for publicity. But if you, gentlemen are fighting for Lokpal, why are you worried about your photos in newspaper?
The protestors insist that I take along with me photos of their protests. Now, I couldn’t be unkind to senior men.
As I drive away from the place, I find it hard not to be cynical about the way we are expressing our protest against corruption. How can thousands of people mindlessly get swayed by this? By doing this, are we telling our already corrupt officials that we will sway to anybody’s tunes if it is packaged in the form of ideals? I personally am all for ideals and against corruption. But, mustn’t we be careful not to get misled by an issue in the name of ideals?
The cause Anna Hazare started out with might have been one of concern. But what followed it is politics, propaganda, publicity stunts.