In its third day, the Bangalorean protest for Jan Lokpal at Freedom Park does not seem to be slowing down in the least. What began with large masses of students in support of Anna Hazare has now broadened into drawing Bangaloreans from several other walks of life.
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Thousands more gathered on Thursday August 18th, stepping up their demand for passing the Anna Hazare version of the Lokpal bill in Parliament. An overcast sky with dark clouds looming did not dampen the spirits. One of the most spirited moments of the day came when thousands sang ‘Vande Mataram’ in unison. By the end of the day, more than 25,000 people had attended the protest.
While several colleges had sent students after Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishat (ABVP) urged the college managements to declare a holiday and send their students to the protest, there were those who missed classes to attend the protest. Prajwal Shyale and 15 of his friends, students of an engineering College on Bannerghatta Road came to the protest because they felt it was their responsibility as youth to support the cause.
Said Shyale, "Anna Hazare is not doing this for himself but for our sake. As the future generation, it is our responsibility to support the cause which will benefit us," he says. Although his college was supportive, he said, they had not declared a holiday because many students were still not keen to participate in the protest but he hopes that it will all change in the next few days.
School children too took part in the protest on Thursday. Prakriya, a school off Sarjapur Road had brought 57 high school students to take part in the protest. Trustee of the school, Seetha Ananthasivan said that it was not enough that students learn about social issues from their textbooks. "They have step out and see for themselves what is happening," she said. A day before the children came to the protests, a workshop titled ‘India and I’ was conducted for them.
Sakshi Saldanha, a ninth standard student said, "In the session we learnt about the social issues plaguing the country, the cause for corruption and the political scenario in the nation. We feel proud to be here and take part in the little way we can. It is a learning experience for us." The students were also told about the Jan Lokpal BiIl and if passed, what it could do. When asked on what causes corruption, Shreesh Mohalik, another student quickly replied, "Greed."
Students still formed the bulk of the protesters at Freedom Park on Thursday but there was an increasing presence of people from all walks of life. Senior citizens, housewives, businessmen, working professionals had all taken a day off to join the protestors.
In between pickups, Anand K, 30, an auto driver has stopped by during each day of the protest to express his support. "I had participated in the previous protest in April but have not been active this time due to other commitments," he said.
Sharane Vinoda Krishnamoorthi, 52, who is a volunteer at the Rashtriya Basava Dala, a Lingayat group, had come to Freedom Park for the first time with 50 more volunteers to spread the message of Basavanna and support the protest. "This is a golden opportunity to support Anna Hazare in his fight for Jan Lokpal which is an important instrument to fight corruption," said Vinoda.
It was the strong participation of the youth that encouraged Suchitra Sengupta and her friend Usha Bhat, 54 and 53 respectively, both homemakers, to participate in the protest. It was their second day at the park. Suchitra said, "Anna Hazare has started a movement that has snowballed in to something big. We too want an India where corruption does not lurk its ugly head. We saw so many youngsters coming forward to the protest. We were inspired by them to come and take part."
Also among the protestors was Mohan Raju, 38, a farmer from Kolar who had seen news reports from Bangalore. Raju, who grows roses, said he and 25 more farmers came to express their support for the campaign. "Farmers are the backbone of this country and although the government provides many subsidies for them, it does not reach the farmers as they have to bribe the officials to release the subsidies. If Jan Lokpal can ensure that corruption is curbed, then we will fight for it," said Raju. He had not participated in the previous agitation for the Bill a few months ago but has decided to stay in Bangalore till the protests are over.
High profile support gaining ground
The protest witnessed some high profile visitors too. Earlier in they day, Kannada film actor Shivaraj Kumar came to express his support for the movement. "People think that those in the entertainment industry are oblivious to what is happening outside. We realise the importance of Jan Lokpal Bill and it won’t be long before we join the protests. We are with the people," he said.
Captain G R Gopinath, who started Air Deccan, a low cost airline, urged more businessmen and entrepreneurs to come forward and take part in the protest. "Businessmen too are one of the reasons for increase in corruption. It is time to cleanse our image and come forward and join the cause for a better country," he said.
BJP city cadres mirror national posturing
Following the position taken by the BJP at the national level, local party made noises of suppor for the protest movement in other parts of the city. On Thursday, About a 100 BJP activists participated a one-day fast at the Mahatma Gandhi statue on MG Road on to express solidarity with Anna Hazare. Former CM Yeddyurappa’s Political Secretary B J Puttaswamy were among those fasting. "Yeddyurappa could not attend the fast due to some reasons," Puttaswamy said, though he did not specify what the reasons were. Vendors around the venue did brisk business as many participants got through the ‘fast’ consuming fruits and groundnut.
Minister M P Renukacharya and other BJP politicians including S S Patil and Somanna visited the venue and expressed support. However the venue did not have banners of the BJP. "This fast is not organised by BJP, it is only a collective of people who want to express their support, general public have also joined us," Puttaswamy said.
A few spiritual leaders from mutts in other districts were present at the MG Road sitout. Basavalinga Swami of Gavi Mutt in Mandya, said that he took part only to support Hazare. Swami Dayanand, Karnataka Convenor for Akhila Bharatiya Sant Samithi, said, "We are not supporting any political party. Sant Samithi has been supporting Baba Ramdev and Hazare, so we decided to participate when invited by the organisers. We may go to Freedom Park also later."
Critics asking to take pause
Amidst the masssive rise of support, some observers were still critical abou the method of the Hazare movement to press for its version of the Bill from the government. Ramesh Ramanathan of Janagraha, speaking to Citizen Matters over telephone, applauded the way Anna Hazare has mobilized the masses to garner support for the bill but added that he does not agree with many aspects of the movement. "We ask the Government to follow due process in formulating the Bill but as citizens, we too have to follow due process. We cannot demand that the government accede to all our demands," he said.
Ramanathan added that while the demand for Lokpal is justified, the commitment to rid corruption is still one sided. "Can the people take an oath that they will never bribe? Only when they too commit to it, will our society be corruption-free."
City industry workers throng venue in the evenings
By 530 pm at Freedom Park when the crowd had thinned, and the energy waned if only a little, thousands of employees of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Kirloskar Toyota marched into Freedom Park after their shift ended. It seemed as if a sea of people were joining as the workers walked in rows of five and filed in at the protest venue. They have been attending the protest for the last two days after work.
Sandeep Garje, 33, a senior technician at HAL said that he became aware of the Lokpal Bill after seeing Anna Hazare’s agitations. He believes that the Bill will help curb corruption and public money will be finally used for the good of the people. "We can get quality service if we ensure that no money is being eaten away," he said.
Vijay M R, 29, a technician at Kirloskar felt pained at a recent tryst with bribery. He had to pay a bribe to register a property in a village. "Corruption is there at every level of the government now. Unless we do something about it, we are doomed. Jan Lokpal is the only way to tackle the issue of corruption," said Vijay. He said that the citizens of the country were looking for a leader to lead a fight against corruption. "We have found that leader in Anna Hazare. We will not give up till the Jan Lokpal Bill is passed."
Elsewhere in the city. suppor groups are bringing up banners. One of them is a dalit group, Dr B R Ambedkar welfare association in Shantinagar ha sput up a banner in support of Jan Lokpal Bill. Employees of software company CHR Solutions in Koramangala 3rd block are taking 3 hours off work to demonstrate support for Hazare.⊕