Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Who is Anna Hazare?

Some people repeatedly call him an RSS agent while others call him the savior of contemporary Indian politics.  Some claim he is corrupt himself while others award him the Indian of the Year crown. What some see as naivete and outspokenness is considered ignorance and orthodoxy by others. Who is Anna Hazare and why does he inspire such divergent feelings? Dr. Ramesh explores.

The 74-year-old Kisan Baburao Hazare has indeed come a long way. Not many people in India can claim to have achieved as much as this diminutive Maharashtrian. Is he a modern day Gandhi or is he a man with authoritarian tendencies hell bent on achieving his goals? His goals if achieved will benefit the masses, the only question being whether his methods are acceptable to civil society?

Let us take a brief look at his track record. At a very young age he helped prevent the poor from being evicted from their shelters by criminal elements employed by local landlords, did this play a role in his becoming an activist? He survived a possible bomb or aerial assault and this set him wondering if he had a bigger purpose in life. He survived another accident while driving for the Army and this made his mind up for him and the people of Ralegan Siddi benefited the most.

He transformed this impoverished hamlet into a thriving village, it would be churlish of anyone not to acknowledge this fact. He used his gratuity money from the Army to restore the local temple and inspired others to donate either money or labour in shramdaan. What was even more important was his success in capturing the imagination of the youth and involving them in all his programs. Some of his major achievements are Prohibition of alcohol in Ralegan, starting a Grain Bank which in a major way helped needy farmers during drought, and a watershed program that helped solve water scarcity and increased the acreage under cultivation more than 30 fold.

Anna with the help of his youth groups helped promote literacy by constructing primary and secondary schools. On the social plane, his noteworthy contributions lie in motivating villagers to shun untouchability and promoting collective marriages thereby helping prevent villagers from falling into debt traps. He has launched several successful anti-corruption movements in Maharashtra leading to a few cabinet ministers having to resign. He has also played a major role in seeing that honest officials were not victimized by frequent transfers.

Anna has been in the news for the last several months advocating a Lokpal bill with some teeth. He has been successful in making a reluctant Government toe his line to a very large extent, the only major point of contention being the CBI or rather who will have authority over it. Many rational Indians would ponder on why Anna is not counting his chickens and insisting on an all or nothing kind of a solution. Does he not realize that he is putting at risk all the concessions he has already wrung from the Government? Are his associates who seem to have a puritanical streak and a holier than thou attitude letting him down by rendering wrong advice? Or is his own authoritarian streak rearing its head?

There have been a few controversies in Anna’s life, but compared to his contributions they pale into insignificance. He has been accused of personally flogging unrepentant drunks of his village. There have been unconfirmed reports of him being given glucose and electrolytes during his fasts. While there have been allegations of corruption, the amounts involved are so miniscule in these days of 2G that they are not even worth writing about. What are more disturbing are the accusations of him being anti democratic and the fact that Panchayat elections have not been held in Ralegan for the past 20 years and that political parties have not been allowed to even campaign. It has also been said that villagers have been forced to adopt a vegetarian diet and those who resisted were again publicly flogged. All these things make you wonder if Anna is once again giving in to his dictatorial tendencies and allowing himself to be carried away by his own press.

What he has achieved is indeed immense, it makes sense to accept reality and slowly and steadily build on this. His “my way or the high way” approach might backfire and cause more harm than good. His attempt to break the nexus between politicians, investigative agencies and even criminals is praiseworthy. In fact, going on a tangent, he is more deserving of the Bharat Ratna than a certain Willow Wielding Wunderkind.

In a democracy, there will always be divergent opinions. You cannot hold the system hostage by going on fasts unto death at the drop of a bucket. You also cannot demand that the Government kowtow to you and follow your demands to the letter. In a democracy, like it or not, Parliament is supreme and it must be given a chance to debate and come out with a Lokpal Bill acceptable to one and all. I really hope good sense will prevail on both Anna and the Government and he will not need to go on another fast. He is a frail man and India needs him.


Some of Dr. Ramesh's popular posts here include
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