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Anna Hazare: A modern day Mahatma who battles corruption

Wednesday April 06, 2011 08:12:16 PM, Anjali Ojha & Quaid Najmi, IANS

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New Delhi/Mumbai: His diminutive stature hides his steely resolve. Like Mahatma Gandhi, he uses hunger strike as a weapon to hit out at the mighty. Now, Anna Hazare, a crusader against corruption, is making waves in a country where hunger for easy money has become a way of life.

The modern day Mahatma, as his supporters fondly describe him, is on a fast in the heart of the capital, drawing tens of thousands from all walks of life who are sick and tired of India's cancerous corruption.

It is a remarkable achievement for a 72-year-old man who dropped out of school at Class 7 due to poverty, sold flowers for a while and then became a driver in the army to feed his family in a rural part of Maharashtra.

Much like Mahatma Gandhi, Anna Hazare -- born Kisan Baburao Hazare -- began his activist life in a humble way.

His first target was his own village, Ralegan-Siddhi in Ahmednagar district. It was a miserable and barren place with insufficient rainfall and lacking any economy. It also suffered from frequent droughts.

The year was 1975. Launching watershed development programmes, he persuaded people to change their ways and managed to transform the barely breathing village to one Mahatma Gandhi would have been proud of.

India recognised his work by awarding him a Padma Vibhushan and a Padma Bhushan. But, unlike many, he would not rest on his laurels. He unleashed a war on corruption, launching the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan.

His first victims in politics were three ministers in the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Maharashtra: Shashikant Sutar, Mahadeo Shivankar and Baban Gholap. This was in 1995.

In 2003, when Maharashtra had a Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government, he went on fast against four ministers, Sureshdada Jain, Nawab Malik, Vijay Kumar Gavit and Padamsinh Patiln, who he said were corrupt.

Anna Hazare's reputation as a man of integrity gave him clout that the corrupt found difficult to battle.

He is a self-made man with no air whose father was an unskilled labourer. Out of school, Anna Hazare sold flowers and set up a floral shop in Mumbai before the Chinese attack of 1962 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, leaders who captured his imagination.

As an activist, Anna Hazare battled many corrupt officials. He 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 right to information, travelling for more than 12,000 km in Maharashtra, creating awareness about the legislation.

Now, Anna Hazare has again embraced the weapon of hunger strike to create a mass movement that he hopes will force politicians to enact a stringent anti-corruption law.



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