After Jayaprakash Narayan and to some extent, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, no other leader of the country has received so much affection in the country as Anna Hazare. I felt that I should spend some time with Anna Hazare so that I could learn how the public views him and what response they give to him. I was there with Anna Hazare for more than 30 hours. I went from Delhi to Guwahati with him. He met people in Guwahati. He addressed a rally there and then I came back to Delhi. Those 30 hours were quite remarkable. When I reached Delhi airport, I saw Anna Hazare entering the entry gate alone with his luggage. As soon as he entered, 10 to 15 people ran towards him and took the luggage from his hands. As soon as they took his luggage, Anna Hazare tried to stop them, but they did not listen. By then Anna Hazare saw me and he slowly moved towards me and I too moved towards him. He asked me ‘where is your seat’ ? I told him that my seat and your seat are very close to each other. He asked how? So I replied that the airlines officials, by looking at your name, gave you a seat in the very first row, which is very close to my seat.
Whoever saw Anna Hazare at the airport, all wanted to come close to Anna and click a photograph with him. All would come running. There were so many mobiles and so many cameras. To click a photograph, one group came and then a second, and a third. After this one more group would come. Gradually, within a span of 20 minutes, more than a hundred groups came to Anna Hazare and clicked a photograph alongside Anna. Anna said to me that I am tired from the last night. Could we sit somewhere in peace? I mentioned the VIP room to Anna. The guards saw him in the VIP lounge and paid obeisance to him by bowing. Anna sat in the VIP lounge. The people who were there in the VIP lounge kept whispering. Being a VIP also has its own intoxication. But one of them stood up and came to Anna Hazare and said that you are doing a good job for the country. And it seemed as if a dam had broken and those 20 to 25 people who were there in the VIP lounge came and began to shake hands with Anna Hazare. They started saying sentences like what are you doing now Anna, you are doing good for the country, as long as you are there the country is there.
The flight was about to depart in 5 to 10 minutes and people left the VIP lounge. As soon as that happened the security guards came inside and were saying let us get photographs clicked quickly. Some sat down near Anna Hazare’s feet while some kept standing. Whosoever heard, he came to Anna Hazare, requested and clicked a photograph and went away. On the flight as well, people started coming one by one and started talking about taking a photograph with Anna Hazare. It seemed that Anna Hazare has the anger of the Government with him but also has the affection of the people with him. When Anna Hazare’s flight landed at Guwahati airport, there were thousands of people standing to welcome him, mainly those people who had returned after doing Haj. Old people, young people, who had returned from Saudi Arabia after doing Haj. They were waving their hands to greet and welcome Anna Hazare, they were raising slogans.
Anna Hazare, after wishing them, reached the guest house. There was a big assembly of media people in the guest house. Anna said, I won’t speak today, I will speak tomorrow. I saw one thing : Anna Hazare was telling them only that thing which he wanted to tell. On the question of Bangladesh and on some other questions, people tried to turn Anna Hazare in different directions, but Anna spoke only those words which he wanted to say. Matters of the country, matter of the poor, matter of the farmers, matter of the Government, matter of the deprived, Dalits, Muslims and the backward classes. The Assamese and the Bengali channels of Assam covered the programme live. At night Anna Hazare took a very small quantity of dal-rice and saltless vegetables and roti and kept on speaking the whole time. Discussions happened, in which a small part was about Arvind Kejriwal and the advice exchanged between them, and about the people, villages, country and society.
The question is : what is the public feeling and what is the Government feeling? I can say with utmost conviction that the people are feeling something else, and the Government is feeling something else.
At night Anna Hazare slept, but the influx of people to meet Anna Hazare continued. At 8 P.M. in the night, a big Hindi channel is on air in Assam. The chairman of the channel, Manoranjana Singh came. She interviewed Anna Hazare for 1 hour and spoke to Anna on a number of issues. He clearly avoided a few questions asked by Manoranjana Singh, but avoided them in such a way that ‘I don’t have any papers and any issue on which there are no papers, I won’t speak anything on it at any cost’. The next day Anna Hazare woke up in the morning. He had a glass of milk and took a light breakfast. Then he sat down after getting ready. The rally was at 10.30 A.M., in which people from all parts of Assam had come. The number of women was almost the same as that of the men. The entire ground ( ‘maidan’) was packed to capacity. People came to take Anna and when he started for the rally people were waving hands to Anna from both sides of the road. Approximately 40,000 to 50,000 people were present. When Anna reached the rally ground then another 10,000 or so people came. Aproximately 60,000 people gathered. Anna took a seat, before standing up and making the people raise slogans before speaking : Bharat Mata Ki Jai, Inquilab-Zindabad, Vande Mataram. The entire maidan echoed with this slogan. Anna said that more of those who want to raise the slogan can do so. Akhil Gogoi is a youth leader in Assam. He emerged from the students agitation and today, he is the strongest leader of the students, youth and the farmers of Assam. I repeat, in a poor state like Assam, 60 thousand people from the entire state reached the maidan to listen to Anna’s speech.
There is one more issue in Assam, that of the Bangladeshis. Some say that the day when Bangladesh was made in 1971, taking that day as a cut off date, the Hindus and the Muslims who have come after that should go back. But according to Anna, those Muslims and Hindus who were in Assam before that, they should be Indian citizens. This is his belief. This was a different issue, but the sole issue of the 8 November public meeting was : why is the Brahmaputra river being sold to Reliance and Jindal ? Drought comes, we do not get water. There is water in Assam, but the water cannot be obtained for the public. Through land acquisition, land is being given to foreign companies, it is being given to local builders. The farmers had a lot of anger against this.
Anna gave a speech in Hindi. Anna said very clearly in his speech that we have to make this country a new one. This country has been looted for the last 65 years, it has to be stopped. The rights of the farmers, that is, water, jungle, land will have to be with the people once again. Whenever Anna spoke on these questions, the entire atmosphere echoed with claps. When Anna finished his speech, then 60,000 people were on the streets. And if 60,000 people shout slogans on the streets, then what would be the scene! Those who were not there, they can simply imagine it. When Anna was looking at them closely from his car, people standing on either side of the street welcomed him like a mega-leader and were waving their hands. The line of people along the roadsides was more than 3 kilometres long. People insisted on making him alight from his car, saying walk with us. He walked along with them for a short distance. Anna came to the guest house, had food. After having food all the people who were there, all the security personnel, all the workers, all of them started clicking pictures alongside Anna. Two times-three times. If one photograph got blurred then another photograph so that it would come out nicely and properly. Such affection is received only by very few leaders. The person walking on the street is insisting on meeting him. This kind of love, this kind of affection comes to be understood by people even without a language, as I saw in Assam. This is where I felt what a people’s leader is all about.
By looking at the courage, the seriousness with which Akhil Gogoi abided by his words, it seemed that the cutting edge of protests and the passion of changing society is still prevalent in the country even now. Even if the people of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are unaware of this, this country is not unaware of it. But the regretful thing is that people sitting in Delhi and in the capitals of the States are oblivious to this desire for change. This unawareness and obliviousness could prove to be very costly. It seems so, but this seeming so to us does not mean anything, does not matter. The question is : what is the public feeling and what is the Government feeling ? I can say with utmost conviction that the people are feeling something else, and the Government is feeling something else.