Much like Mahatma Gandhi, Anna Hazare -- born Kisan Baburao Hazare -- began his activist life in his own way. Years later, India honoured his work by awarding him a Padma Shri in 1990 followed by Padma Bhushan in 1992. But, unlike many, Anna would not rest on his past laurels. He unleashed a war on corruption, and had launched the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan. In 1989, Anna undertook a nine-day fast to support a farmers' stir to draw attention to the agrarian crisis and power shortage in the state. The government accepted most of the demands. In 1995, his anti-corruption drive against the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Maharashtra led to the resignation of three ministers - Shashikant Sutar, Mahadeo Shivankar and Baban Gholap. In 2003, when Maharashtra had a Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government, the tireless crusader went on fast against four ministers, Sureshdada Jain, Nawab Malik, Vijay Kumar Gavit and Padamsinh Patil, whom he accused of being corrupt.
It was a civic-government standoff, broadcast live to the nation by the incessantly chattering 24x7 TV news channels. At the centre of this spectacular reality show was a frail and fasting 74-year-old man who became a veritable nightmare for the ruling political class, but a hero of the urban middle class reeling under pervasive corruption and an unresponsive system. He drove a truck for the army during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, but when Anna Hazare broke his fast on day 13th after the Indian parliament agreed to his three demands for a stronger anti-graft legislation the school dropout had won a war against the powerful establishment for the people. Heroes are born in trying times, and in Hazare, who once sold flowers for a living, middle India has found an icon who echoed their growing disgust with scandal after scandal.
Hazare, who has deftly deployed Gandhian weapons of fasting to protest against corruption and injustice in his native village of Ralegan Siddhi and in Maharashtra where he has taken up diverse causes, came into the national spotlight in April when he fasted for five days for a strong Lokpal bill. He forced the government to form a 10-member panel to draft the legislation.
Four months later, Hazare undertook another fast for the same cause when he saw that the government had not agreed to all their conditions and this time he captured the people's imagination - thanks to 24X7 TV coverage of his movement - like few have in the last few decades. Anna became a national icon when he was arrested on August 16 before he began his fast and was put in Tihar jail but was eventually released due to mounting public pressure. After 12 days of fasting and sustained media attention, fed astutely by his SMS-wielding tech-savvy minders, Hazare may have got unprecedented national limelight now, but the diminutive activist, clad in the traditional white kurta-pyjama and a Gandhi cap, has been a quiet revolutionary back in his home state Maharashtra for decades.
His first target was his own village, Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar district. It was a miserable and drought-prone place with insufficient rainfall devoid of economic development. In 1975, he launched watershed development programmes and persuaded people to change their ways and managed to transform the barely breathing village to one Mahatma Gandhi would have been proud of.
Hazare's reputation as a man of integrity gave him clout that his detractors find difficult to battle. A self-made man with no airs, his father was an unskilled labourer. Out of school, Hazare sold flowers and set up a floral shop in Mumbai before the Chinese attack of 1962, this led him into the army. It was while in the army that he was exposed to the works of Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave, spiritual philosophers and leaders who captured his imagination. Hazare also fought for the rights of tribals, the lowliest of the lowliest. But he realised that nothing could be achieved until people were empowered. And so he campaigned extensively for the Right to Information act (actually here the credit should go to GR Khairnar ), travelling for more than 12,000 km in Maharashtra, creating awareness about the legislation.
Now Hazare, using the satyagrahi's time-tested weapon of hunger strike, has spawned a mass movement that has forced the government to accept his demand for a stringent anti-corruption law that could bring cabinet secretary as well as a lowly clerk within the ambit of Lokpal Bill. It's not often an individual morphs into a mantra, but Anna Hazare has become one, inspiring the apathetic middle class to shed its indifference and become proactive catalyst of change.
The donation collection desk at Ramlila ground since Aug 19 - the day Hazare moved there from Tihar Jail - has received cash donations of more than Rs. 70 lakh. I never understood why these donations were given, and what are the guarantee people are not going to make their black money white? The donation department maintains an account of money received and spent on daily basis. Now this group has made it a business they are inviting donations from IAC website, those with Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI), or People of India Origin (PIO) or people with dual citizenship cannot make donations due to regulatory restrictions. People can also send demand drafts and cheques payable at Delhi and attach a copy of the PAN card/valid government photo identity proof with the cheque or draft. Donors can also make online payments. "For online bank transfers, please send us an email with your postal address and a scanned copy of your PAN card (for Indian citizens)/Passport (for those residing abroad) on IAC email and we will dispatch you a receipt within a day or two of receiving the cheque.
Yes, history was indeed created! After declaration of emergency during Indira Gandhi period and JPs movement, this is the movement that brought together the non-political middle class and youth to streets in support of Anna. The political class was given a lesson in their coin of public support which they claim always (drummed up or paid support). Not only Anna and his followers, the whole nation including all the Political parties, particularly the Central Govt. supported the motion and all Indians deserve a pat on their back for this historic movement. This will bear fruit only when an effective lokpal bill is passed and implemented in letter and spirit and till such time Anna and team should work as watch dog so that no diversion is done in this.
Has Anna Hazare helped India make History? This continues to remain a question.