Hazare, a Gandhian by belief, outlook and practice, has become the face of India’s right against corruption. During his fast over the Lokpal Bill, Hazare, a quintessential traditional Indian by looks and mannerism, managed to inspire and mobilize the support of even the ultra-modern Indians – Indians for whom the word “social” only means having a profile on social networking sites.
The ‘Anna Hazare fast’ can be described as the first real “social networking movement” in India. Hazare, a former Army man, began his social activism from Ralegan Siddhi, a village in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra, where he successfully led a movement against alcoholism and made Ralegan Siddhi a “model village”. Hazare’s campaign was instrumental in the implementation of the Right to Information Act in Maharashtra, which is considered one of the best RTI Acts in India. A Ramon Magsaysay award winner, Anna Hazare, like his idol, Mahatma Gandhi, has triggered a debate over the use of fast as a means of protest in India. By sheer commitment and simplicity, he has demonstrated that Gandhian principles are relevant even in the 21st-century India.
Kisan Baburav Hazare popularly known as Anna Hazare was born on 15th June, 1937 in Bhingar, near to Ahmednagar. His father worked in a pharmacy and struggled to support the family financially. A relative took on the burden of providing Kisan with an education, taking him to Mumbai because the village had no primary school. The relative became unable financially to continue the support and Kisan’s schooling ended in the Standard Seventh grade; his siblings were not schooled at all. He started selling flowers at the Dadar railway station in Mumbai and was able eventually to own two flower shops in the city. He also became involved in vigilantism, joining groups who acted to prevent the poor from being bullied out of their shelters by thugs in the employ of landlords.
Today, Anna Hazare is the face of India’s fight against corruption. He has taken, that fight to the corridors of power and challenged the government at the highest level. People, the common man and well-known personalities alike, are supporting him in the hundreds swelling to the thousands.
For Anna Hazare, it is another battle. And he has fought quite a few, including some as a soldier for 15 years in Indian Army. He was enlisted after the 1962 Indo-China War, when the government exhorted young men to join the Army. In 1978, he took voluntary retirement from the 9th Maratha Battalion and returned home to Ralegan Siddhi, a village in Maharashtra’s drought-prone Ahmednagar. He was 39 years old.
He found farmers back home struggling for survival and their suffering would prompt him to pioneer rainwater conservation that put his little hamlet on the international map as a model village. The villagers revere him. Thakaram Raut, a school teacher in Ralegan Siddhi says, “Thanks to Anna’s agitations, we got a school, we got electricity, we got development schemes for
Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption began here. He fought first against corruption that was blocking growth in rural India. His organization-the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan (People’s Movement against Corruption). His tool of protest-hunger strikes. And his prime target is politicians. Maharashtra stalwarts like Sharad Pawar and Bal Thackeray have often called his style of agitation nothing short of “blackmail”.
But his weapon is potent. In 1995-96, he forced the Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra to drop two corrupt Cabinet Ministers. In 2003, he forced the Congress—Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) State government to set up an investigation against four ministers. In April 2015, four days of fasting brought thousands of people out in support of his crusade against corruption. They also made the government realize it could not be dismissive about Anna Hazare and his mass appeal.
His relationship with the UPA Government continues to be uneasy. The truce of April was short lived. An exercise to set up a joint committee made up of equal numbers of government representatives and civil society activists, including Anna Hazare, came to naught when the two sides failed to agree and drafted two different Lok Pal Bills. The government has brought its version in Parliament and Team Anna is livid. He fought from the front to have Right to Information (RTI) implemented. He is now fighting for the implementation of the Jan Lokpal Bill, the Anti-Corruption Bill drafted by his team of crusaders.
On 20th August, 2011, thousands came to the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi to show their support for Hazare, while “his advisers made televison appearances to rally public support and defend themselves against criticism that their protest campaign and refusal to compromise is undermining India’s Parliamentary process. The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) condemned Hazare’s deadline for passing the bill as undermining democracy, which operates by “olding wide-ranging consultations and discussions, allowing for dissent and evolving a consensus. …He [Hazare] has the right to protest and dissent. But nobody can claim it as an absolute right and deny the right of dissent; to others. The Congress Party confirmed that Maharashtra Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Umesh Chandra Sarangi (who has a history of mediating between Hazare and government officials) was meeting with the social activist again “to find points of consensus and defuse the situation”. On 21th August, 2o11, “tens of thousands” came to Ramlila Maidan to support Hazare as he sat on an elevated platform. It was reported that Hazare at that point had “lost more than seven pounds since beginning his fast”, despite this he stated “‘I will not withdraw my hunger strike until the Jan Lokpal Bill is passed in the Parliament. I can die but I will not bend.” Hazare ended his fast on 28th August, 2011, after the Indian Government had passed the resolution for the Lokpal Bill unanimously.
Very few social activists have captured the attention of Indians across the globe as Anna Hazare did during his “fast unto death” over the issue of the Lokpal Bill in New Delhi in April, 2011.
Though, simple in outlook, he truly is a charismatic leader and the lone hope for many to get rid of evil of corruption from the country.