The Indianpost

In India, a triumphal procession of mass dissent

Smiling, waving and pressing his palms together in the Indian gesture of greeting, Anna Hazare was driven through the streets like the all-conquering hero his adoring followers believe him to be.

Shrugging off heavy monsoon rains that drenched the capital, hundreds of thousands of ecstatic, dancing, flag-waving supporters cheered the man they trust to purge their country of the blight of endemic corruption.

“Hail Anna Hazare!” “Hail Mother India” they chanted as the diminutive, all white-clad Hazare passed on an open-top truck taking him from jail to an open venue in central New Delhi where he will stage a 15-day hunger strike.

At times, his convoy was forced to stop as the crowds surged forward to touch the truck and throw flowered garlands up at Hazare, who was protected from the driving rain by a large, camouflage-patterned parasol.

The Indian government, which has slammed Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign as “totally misconceived”, could only stand by and watch as his triumphal procession brought areas of New Delhi to a complete standstill.

The whole event, which had been carefully choreographed by Hazare’s media-savvy India Against Corruption campaign team, was broadcast live across the country by English, Hindi and regional language 24-hour news networks.

With his trademark white cap and large spectacles, and his espousal of fasting as a form of non-violent protest, the veteran activist is seen by many of his followers as a latter-day Mahatma Gandhi.

And Hazare wasn’t shy about reinforcing the comparisons, making Rajghat, the memorial to India’s independence icon, the first stop on his route.

Like any visiting foreign head of state, he laid a garland at the plinth that marks the site of Gandhi’s cremation, surrounded by hordes of chanting supporters.

Huge crowds had also gathered at Ramlila Maidan, the venue for the fast that Hazare has vowed to pursue unless the government accedes to his demands for stronger anti-corruption laws.

Teachers and their students, doctors, office workers and retirees were among those packed into the 25,000-capacity field, waiting for the 74-year-old activist to arrive.

Engineering student Deepak Narang, 22, said he came with 20 friends to be part of what he saw as an historic movement.

“We realise it’s time for the youth to come forward and speak up against a rotten system,” Narang said.

“There is no magic wand, but if corruption can be rooted out from the country, we can be called a developed country in the real sense of the word,” he added.

When state secondary school teacher Ramprakash Arya told his pupils he was going to the Ramlila ground, they promptly decided to join him.

“Studies can always be made up, but such an opportunity to serve the country won’t come again,” the 60-year-old teacher said.

“I want to be part of the Anna movement and bring about a change in the system, it is corrupt from top to bottom.”

As the rain fell, many young men stripped off their shirts and danced bare-chested to patriotic songs and popular Bollywood numbers blaring out of loudspeakers attached to the raised, covered stage where Hazare will conduct his fast.

The security presence was sizeable but relatively unobtrusive, with everyone entering the grounds required to pass through a metal detector manned by police who screened any bags.

“This is the right way to vent anger and frustration,” said 38-year-old doctor Munish Khanna.

“The thing about Anna is his simplicity of thought and action. He is connected to the masses while our political leaders are aloof and in their own ivory towers,” he said.S

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