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Keeping Anna wired
Gaurav Bakshi, who created the Anna Hazare Facebook page, on how social media was used to fuel a revolution.
For more than a week, a nation has been sitting in rapt attention, watching drama and chaos unfold at the Ramlila Maidan in Central Delhi. Children, their parents and even grandparents wearing the nowubiquitous 'Main Anna Hoon' cap have been making daily treks to watch actors, singers and the common man turn up in support of fasting Anna and his dream.
Hundreds of volunteers have signed up to spread the message, to collect support and even to control the crowd. While mediators like Right to Information activist and Parivartan founder Arvind Kejriwal and extough cop Kiran Bedi of the "core team" have got the dialogue going with the government on the Jan Lokpal Bill, the 22-member Team Anna - "it represents the people" - includes MBAs, doctors and other professionals. One member of the team, Gaurav Bakshi, who created the Facebook page for Anna Hazare, is a classic example of how social media was effectively harnessed in fuelling a social revolution.
The 34-year-old Bakshi's tryst with the campaign began when he experienced rampant corruption that is so embedded in the Indian system. After having spent close to a decade in the United States - he completed his Masters in business administration from the University of Georgia and was a part of the world of corporate finance as a consultant with Chamberlin Edmonds & Associates - he returned to India in 2009.
His first stop in India was a spiritual foundation in Coimbatore where he spent some time in solitude and searched for something "more meaningful in life". "I wasn't dissatisfied with my life. I just wanted to be involved in something meaningful, " Bakshi tells TOI-Crest as he drives to television studios in Noida for now what is becoming a daily occurrence. So last May, he set up the Bharat Jagran Trust, "an independent non-profit aimed at creating a platform to connect the common man to meaningful causes and organisations, and provide them an actionable forum". Bakshi had worked in the social sector in America as well, where he headed the Atlanta chapter of an NGO known as Asha for Education.
As he got more and more involved, the ugly face of corruption manifested itself in virtually every day-today activity connected with the government. In July 2010, he initiated proceedings to adopt Azara, the daughter of the woman he had just married. "I wanted to become her legal father and I thought it would be an easy enough process, " he recounts. But that one experience changed his life.
Everything would have been done in a jiffy if Bakshi had allowed his lawyer to follow the 'regular' procedure - pay a bribe and get the papers processed. There was no question of his agreeing to do so, but his lawyer, without informing him, paid Rs 6, 000 to the registrar at the Noida office. "I went back the next day and confronted the registrar, and he brazenly said that yes, he had asked for a bribe. I made him apologise and return the money. Slowly a crowd of 50 to 60 people started crowding my father and I. "
That's when Bakshi committed the beginner's error in an undercover mission: he revealed that he had recorded the entire conversation. "I made the mistake of saying that I had evidence and that I would go to the police, " he says. After which the sub-registrar, the secretary of the deed writers & bar association, and employees and goons of the Sector 33 Noida registrar office followed the Bakshis and assaulted them, just metres away from the police station. An FIR was filed and pictures of the incident and a scruffed-up Gaurav even made it to the newspapers but the police did not file a case, saying that it would lead to "riots".
A firm believer in change and democracy, Bakshi started the 'Choosna Band' campaign on November 24, 2010, just days after he attempted to expose the shenanigans at the registrar's office. After months of protest, one clerk was suspended on charges of bribery and one of the five assailants was arrested and jailed.
It was during this period that Arvind Kejriwal, whom he'd met before, invited him to join the now wellknown Indian Against Corruption movement. Bakshi joined as a volunteer and his main job has over time evolved to mobilising people, delivering talks at places like IITs and colleges, writing the speeches for Kejriwal and most importantly, interacting with the media.
Suave, comfortable with English and Hindi and most importantly a confident performer - his modelling and theatre background clearly came in handy here - Bakshi has slowly slipped into a more public role. "There are a lot of wonderful people who have been working on this campaign but not everyone has the knack of getting their point across, " says Bakshi, who stepped into the role of media handler because there was no one else doing it.
The fight against corruption has seen tremendous support online, and it was another area where Bakshi chipped in. The India Against Corruption campaign already had a Facebook presence thanks to the efforts of Shivendra Singh Chauhan, a reporter with a Hindi daily, who took leave without pay to manage the social networking sites. But it was Baskhi who realised that it was Hazare who would end up as the face of the movement. And he did.
He created the Anna Hazare page on Facebook and today can count 3, 52, 961 people who follow it. "Within six months, we've been able to garner so much support, " he says. "It's the easiest way to disseminate information about the movement, the bill, activities and, most importantly, just to mobilise people. On Facebook, we invite people to join the movement and show their solidarity. " The Internet and social media allows people to raise a collective voice that gets progressively louder as messages are re-pasted and retweeted. #annahazare and #janlokpal have been trending on Twitter for days.
Bakshi, who ran a Facebook campaign after the adoption debacle, knows fully well the reach and impact of this. "Within five days of launching my campaign, it attracted almost 600 people. I also managed to get some 60 people for a dharna from my Facebook supporters. Social media plays a huge role in mobilising mass movements, " contends Bakshi.
Can this outpouring of support thanks to the social media be compared with Egypt? Bakshi doesn't quite agree. "In Egypt, the message went viral. It started with one guy walking out of the house and thousands joined him within hours. Here, it's been a slow process but in the past one week the movement has definitely picked up speed. " And to all those who've been complaining of their walls and inboxes being spammed, Bakshi, who ironically runs a construction material company - "the most corrupt sector" - has this to say: "I find it strange when people complain. I agree there can be an overload of information but Facebook has given you the controls to see and read what you want to read. Social media has not reached the age of maturity in India yet. "
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