Flags, slogans, songs... all for Anna

Indo Asian News Service

New Delhi, June 8 (IANS) The Indian tricolour was in abundance. So were placards and posters denouncing corruption. Rajghat was overflowing with the elderly and the young. There were thousands but only one hero: Anna Hazare.

As the 73-year-old softspoken but uncompromising Gandhian fasted outside the Mahatma Gandhi mausoleum, it was more than clear that India was at war with corruption - like never before.

With loudspeakers belting out patriotic songs, unceasing clapping of hands, skits and, of course, speeches in place, there was no dearth of enthusiasm for a crusade which began two months ago when Hazare staged his first hunger strike here for a strong Lokpal bill.

The crowds were full of admiration for Hazare -- and contempt for the government and the politician.

One placard held by a Sikh man, referring to the prime minister, said: 'Sardar Manmohan Singh, Sikhs are ashamed of you defending the cruelty against women and children.'

The reference was to the police crackdown on Baba Ramdev and his supporters at the Ramlila ground here after midnight Saturday that forced the yoga guru out of Delhi and left more than 100 people injured.

Hazare himself underlined that he was fasting Wednesday to protest the police action, which he compared with the Jallianwala Bagh massacre during the British Raj.

Ashok Kumar, a student from Gurgaon who fasted with Anna, said: 'What happened at the Ramlila ground was shameful.'

Added another young man, Vaibhav Kumar: 'If the government can endorse the beating of peaceful protesters, then they should remove pictures of Mahatma Gandhi from all government offices and currency notes.'

Among the first to reach Rajghat was Hazare associate Arvind Kejriwal.

If the police dominated the lane near Rajghat early in the morning, the situation reversed as thousands poured in from about 8 a.m.

Most people were from Delhi and surrounding areas, including districts in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh bordering the capital.

Some came from Punjab and also Haridwar, where Ramdev is still continuing the hunger strike he began here Saturday.

A number of supporters donned T-shirts with the slogan 'India Against Corruption' splashed across.

Faridabad's Manohar Lal, 62, wore a Nehru cap. It had 'Main Anna Hoon' written on it.

'Our names may be different but our aim is the same - to fight corruption. Anna is representing India. Each one of us is an Anna,' Lal told IANS.

The mass of young volunteers kept everyone away from the raised platform where Hazare sat quietly except when he addressed the crowd early in the day. At times he waved to known and unknown faces.

To beat the heat, young people distributed water. Many fasted too. Vendors were kept away from the barricaded area.

Sulakshana Sharma, a college student who volunteered, said the organisers were worried when the venue of the protests was changed from Jantar Mantar in the heart of Delhi to Rajghat on the bank of the Yamuna.

'But we are very happy with the response...Look at the amount of people who turned up! We are helping out in all possible ways to keep peace.'

She added: 'We don't belong to any political party. We only identify with Anna's dream of a corruption free India.'

Even as she spoke, there were repeated deafening cries of 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' and 'Anna Hazare Zindabad'.

The crowds did have one villain: Kapil Sibal, the cabinet minister who has taken the most aggressive anti-Ramdev line.

The moment a speaker took his name, many stood up and began angrily screaming slogans against Sibal. Hazare had to get up and urge the crowds to maintain calm.