Ankit Krishna Lal
New Delhi: It was 11:15 am on August 15 and I was rushing towards A-119, Kaushambi, which houses the office of Arvind Kejriwal and is the headquarters of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement.
I had received a call in the morning informing Arvind Bhaiya (as I respectfully call him) had called some of us for a meeting. It was different from the 2 o’clock meeting in which the volunteers who were ‘ready to court arrest and agitate the Gandhian way’ had been called.
There were about 12-15 of us stuffed in that small room and a sense of seriousness hung in the air. After weighing the options discussed the day before at the now- famous ‘Supreme Enclave’, it was decided that a team of 11 people would have to go underground. They had to avoid arrest at any cost and keep the movement afloat by serving as the information channel between various groups. I was also a part of this team of 11.
A message by Anna to be telecasted in the event of his arrest had also been recorded. We were prepared for the worst-case scenario.
A few volunteers left to ‘recce’ Rajghat after being informed that Anna wished to go there in the evening. The Rajghat visit caught the government unawares and proved to be the perfect end to August 15.
Time to go underground
That very night, the 11 of us went underground. At 7.15 am on August 16, we got a message about a very heavy police presence around ‘Supreme Enclave’. We immediately swung into action and Anna’s post-arrest speech was posted on You Tube and the link sent to different TV channels and reporters. We also sent seven-eight CDs of the video through one of our trusted aides to the news channel reporters waiting at ‘Supreme Enclave’.
Then came the news of people trying to enter J.P.N. Memorial Park being arrested and taken to Chattrasal Stadium. Our university team immediately swung into action as the stadium was near the Delhi University North Campus. Within two hours, we had accomplished what can be called the ‘siege of Chattarsal Stadium’.
It was a morning of fast-paced news developments - Kiran Bedi detained, Shanti Bhushan detained, Prashant Bhushan held a press conference and gave a call to people to assemble at India Gate at 7 pm. There was a plan to assemble at Pragati Maidan metro station and make another attempt to enter J.P.N. Memorial Park at 4 pm. Our job was to collect all this information and pass it on to the media and the grass-root level teams of the 12 zones we had in NCR.
The national and international activities were also being coordinated at the same time. Some of our core volunteers were in USA for business trips and they made up for their absence here by giving this issue an international face. Facebook and Twitter were also being updated and the national and donation helplines were also being attended to. All of this was being done by the group of 11.
Chattrasal Stadium and later Tihar Jail became the new Jantar Mantar and remained so until the government relented and gave us permission for Ramlila Maidan. On the evening of August 18, we had a group meeting to discuss the challenges at hand in the form of Ramlila Maidan.
Racing against time at Ramlila Maidan
The next morning, on August 19, we had our first on-ground meeting in which Arvind ji gave specific and clear-cut instructions to everyone – Do whatever it takes but complete the work assigned to you.
And then the rains came pouring down. It was as if the gods wanted to put us through every possible test. I was in the freshly-erected media enclosure and soon the ground below us became a pool of muddy water and water started to seep in through the carpet and the mattresses.
That 15-minute spell of rain left everything drenched. Proper power supply was still not in place, mails offering donations were pouring in at the rate of two per minute and not a single cell phone remained silent for two minutes at a stretch. Moreover, Anna was on his way to the ground after being released.
All of us immediately reorganised our priorities. The responsibility for power, water and toilets was assigned to people who had the capacity and will to take the burden.
I was given the responsibility of looking after the overall activities of all these groups and being the one-point information center for everything. Things, however, fell into place and Anna continued with his fast at Ramlila Maidan.
How long would Anna need to fast?
A huge crowd had gathered. However, by August 20 evening, a different worry started to take over. It was the fifth day of Anna’s fast. In April, the fast had ended and our demands accepted by the fifth morning. But here, it was the evening of the fifth day and there was not even a proper dialogue between us and the government. Something drastic needed to be done, something really out of the box.
On August 21, we again had an early morning meet-up and this time almost everyone was on time. Things on ground had smoothened up more or less and the basics were in place. It was quite an achievement keeping in mind that it had taken two months to prepare the ground during Swami Ramdev ji’s fast in June. This time, we didn’t even have two days.
The crowds built up at Ramlila Maidan. The next few days also saw protests near the Prime Minister’s Race Course Road residence. Leaders like Pranab Mukherjee, L K Advani and P Chidambaram were among those who faced similar protests.
We were apprehensive of police using force
On August 25 evening, there was heavy police and RAF presence around Ramlila Maidan and all of us were really worried about how the night would unfold. None of us had forgotten what happened with Swami Ramdev ji and his followers on the night of June 4. The police was barricading the VIP exit as well as the exit just behind the stage.
About 300 volunteers sat on the other side of the stage exit. There were about 50 of us backstage and we had news that Anna would be taken away by the police somewhere between three and four in the morning.
Finally it was 4.30 am and nothing had happened. All of us went to sleep on the stairs that led to Anna’s room. If they came to take Anna they would have to take us too, was the thought on our minds.
The next night was spent in the same anxiety. Police presence was heavier, there were more barricades than the previous night and all the roads leading to Ramlila Maidan had heavy RAF deployment as well.
The presence of Bhaiyuu Maharaj was something that didn’t go down very well with us. He had been a model and Youth Congress leader before he turned Godman and there is only one word we use for such people - ‘Opportunist’.
Finally, time to celebrate!
The government finally showed signs of concrete action. We celebrated on August 27 evening after our demands were accepted by the Parliament and sent to the Standing Committee. We danced till late into the night but again, like the previous few days slept on the stairs leading to Anna’s room. Despite everything the government had done, we did not have faith in it.
Anna broke his fast around 10 am on August 28 and was taken to hospital soon after that.
However, there are still two questions that hang in my mind. What will I do in the evenings from now on? Secondly and more importantly, will the government not betray us this time round? Only time can provide the answers.
* The writer is a volunteer with India Against Corruption (IAC).