It is late in the evening as the sunsets outside Sant Yadavbaba Temple in the small dusty village of Ralegaon Siddhi, 30 kilometers from Ahmednagar city in south Maharashtra. “I am not going to give up my fight. Let Bal Thackeray come here to meet me or Mahohar Joshi come here to meet me. It does not matter to me. I am prepared for death and I will fight right till end to remove corruption”, smiles Kisan Baburao Hazare popularly known as Anna Hazare, unshaven, dressed in a crumpled worn-out and partly torn kurta-pyjama looking absolutely determined as he peers through his glasses even has been on fast for nine days allowing himself only a glass of juice a day.
Even as emissaries of the BJP general secretary, Pramod Mahajan, State Chief Minister Manohar Joshi and even Sena supreme Bal Thackeray go daily to temple in Ralegoan Siddhi trying every trick in book and offering various concessions, Hazare is sure about what he wants. “The issue is not going to end with resignation of two ministers. They are mere symbols of what has gone wrong with society. Gandhiji gave swaraj and sacrificed his life. What have we done? It is my duty as an ordinary citizen to do whatever little I can to fight. You can be sure that I will fight,” asserts the 56-year-old Hazare.
Outside the small room, which he occupies in the interior of the temple, hundreds of villagers keep a silent vigil. Truckloads of villagers arrive by the hour to catch a glimpse of the man who has transformed lives in many interior villages of Maharashtra. As the crowd outside the temple increases, volunteers request the villagers who huddle in groups to maintain silence and allow Hazare to rest. For hours together, the villagers squat on the school ground and in courtyard of the temple.
Despite being tired and fatigued after going on fast as a mark if protest about the increasing cases of corruption in the Ministry of irrigation and agriculture and the need for the concerned ministers to resign pending the outcome of a probe against them, yet, thrice in the day he addresses the villagers in the school play-ground explaining his mission in life.
He need not explain his crusade to anyone. Ask any villager and for them Hazare is a demi-god. He is on of them and someone whom they trust implicitly. Here is man they know who does not posses anything besides “one-glass, one plate, a “vati” (cup) and a roll of bedding”. These are the only assets he possesses and which have been declared publicly.
Yet, his greatest asset is his honesty and integrity which all the villagers implicitly believe in ever since he embarked on his journey of social reform after nearly escaping death in 1965 in the Indo-Pak war, when the jeep which he was driving was blown to pieces and all the occupants died except Anna Hazare. “It was a miracle that I survived. If left my death behind in the 1965 war. I have no fear of death. I then decided to devote my life for the upliftment of society, says Hazare.
And from thereon he began his journey of helping society in his own little way. He returned to his village, Ralegaon Siddhi and instead of living in his parents’ but, made the village temple of Sant Yadavbaba his abode. It was only through determination and will power that Hazare radically transformed his village into a role-model village so much, so that the Magsaysay Award was bestowed on him some years back for this social reform.
Before Hazare started his work, Ralegaon Siddhi was a good example of what goes wrong with villages in India. All-pervading poverty, drinking, gambling, smoking, rampant destruction of forests were the hallmarks of Ralegaon Siddhi. The villagers were at war with each other and never helped each other in times of need.
Recalls Ganpat Auti who is the Sarpanch of the village: “Anna not only saved this village but has earned the blessings and good wishes that have followed the Ralegaon Siddhi development pattern.” Thanks to Hazare’s efforts to make the villagers pitch in their might collectively, the fortunes of Ralegaon villagers took a turn for the better. His watershed management programme and soil conservation programme turned the once drought-prone village into a prosperous self-reliant one. Out of a total of 2,500 acres of village land, 1,700 acres are under cultivation despite scanty rainfall.
The greatest contribution that Hazare made in Ralegaon Siddhi was the idea of shares wealth.
“Anna installed in us the concept sharing. If one villager’s crop failed, the other pitched in. If there was scanty rainfall, then everyone shared with each other. If someone died rendering the family vulnerable, the entire village pitched in. It was out of “shram-daan” that we built the village school without single paise of help. Anna indeed made us realise our potential,” explains Ganpat Auti.
Even as Government after Government recognised the good work that Hazare was doing and helped him carry a “aadarsh gaon yojana”, which would be replicated in the villages, Hazare realized that his goal of social reform and turning the villages as hallmarks of prosperity would remain incomplete as various government departments carrying out work in rural areas were dens of corruption, greed and everything that was wrong.
This was when he trained his guns on eradicating corruption in the Government. His movement of social reforms now hinged on the removal of corruption as well. It was five years ago that he started his campaign against corruption and the Sharad Pawar Government faced severe credibility problems thanks to Hazare’s sustained efforts to focus on corruption in successive governments.
It is now the turn of the Sena BJP Government. Since October 1995, Hazare has focused on the corruption in the irrigation and agriculture department but with little success. Along the way, incensed senior Sena leaders including Thackeray have called him names including “pissadla” (mad). Yet, Hazare may just succeed in teaching corrupt officials a lesson. Thanks to his integrity and his credibility and the fact that he is absolutely transparent, the Sena BJP Government was forced to sack two senior cabinet ministers this week despite dilly-dallying and despite their trying to wriggle their way out using subterfuge and various ploys. What is it that made Hazare succeed where others have failed? He explains it himself thus:
Q: What is it that you are trying to fight? Can corruption be really contained?
A: Gandhiji’s sacrifice was not only for freedom and independence. He wanted us to do constrictive work. Yet, very few understand what constructive work is about. One prime example is environment degradation. Gandhiji wanted self-sufficient villages in India. This is what I am trying to do. However, fetters come my way.
A: Fetters of corruption. Crores of rupees are spent on development. How much of it reaches the poor villager? Rajiv Gandhi himself had conceded that out of each rupee allotted for development just about 15 paise reaches the village. Since I have decided to fight corruption, I will do so against whosoever is corrupt. My focus is samaj (society) and the rashtra (nation). I fought the last government (of Sharad Pawar) and I will fight this one (Sena-BJP) as well.
Q: have you plan to fight corruption? How do you intend to go about it?
A: My decision to fight this Government was not out of the blue. People threw out the earlier Government. They had hoped that this (Sena-BJP) Government would be better. I have been corresponding with this Government pointing out cases of corruption. They gave me assurance after assurance. I did not go to Press initially, hoping that matter would be resolved. From October 1995, the Sena-BJP Government kept promising to take remedial action. I have exchanged letters, even went on “maun vrat” as mark of protest yet nothing was done. This Government had become a Government of gangsters, khandni (extortion money) collectors. I will not let the sacrifice of thousands of freedom fighters go waste. I am sorry that ministers are provided with bodyguards whom they use for collecting extortion money.
Q: What is your bottom-line? Will you be happy if the two ministers handling irrigation and agriculture resign?
A: It is not the question of resignation of two ministers. The issue does not end there. There should be a well-defined mechanism at the Government and village level to contain corruption. I have no hope in this Government. There is little hope for this society.
Q. So what is your solution?
A. I am trying to awaken the people. People are sleeping. People keep on lamenting that they want Shivaji’s rule. So I have decided to fight this lackadaisical attitude of people. Corruption is not just limited to Maharashtra. It cannot be compared to AIDS or cancer. It has even gone beyond that.
Q. Senior Congressman and sitting Rajya Sabha MP Govindrao Adik came today for show of support. Do you think your fight against corruption is becoming a political and party-based fight?
A. People on individual bases are welcome to fight along with me. But I will not allow politics and political parties to hijack the movement. It is a jan andolan (people’s fight). I feel the real terrorists in the country are not those Pakistanis or those who have been trained by them. The real terrorist is corrupt people who are using this country. I repeat that we can fight Pakistani terrorists but are not able to identify such corrupt people and fight them.
Q. The comparison may be bit wide-stretched. Yet, let us take the example of Jayaprakash Narayan. He too launched a jan-andolan. Yet, what was the outcome? The Jantas Government collapsed and nothing changed.
A. I am optimistic. I am not weak and I know that people are crying for change. I have no personal expectations. I know that the moment politicians come to power, their aim is to collect “Paisa”. Yet, we should not give up. We have to change. I am optimistic
By Ketan Narottam Tanna