Anna – The Making of a Modern Mahatma
What makes a man great? Is it because of his actions in face of adversity or is the greatness because what people make out of those actions. As William F. Halsey puts across eloquently; is it that there are no great men, only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet? India has a long tradition of such men who achieved greatness in the face of such great challenges, with the likes of Buddha, Ashoka, Jhansi Rani Laxmibai, Bhagath Singh, Subhash Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and the latest to join the ranks is the face of anti-corruption movement in India; Anna Hazare. What made these men and women legendary? Why is that we chose to revere these personalities and give them demi god statuses? What makes these mere mortals immortal? The answers to these questions provide fascinating insights regarding the range of diverse factors that work in unison to elevate a man to a mythical status.
These factors range from internal factors ranging from the ideologies with shape the individual’s outlook, experiences that the individual goes through during his lifetime, the belief systems that he carries strongly with him and the drive in the individual to make an impact; to external factors such as prevailing social conditions of the nation, political environment in which the individual operates, economic conditions of the society, significance of the media in shaping popular opinion, the role of civil society in embracing the ideas put forth by the individual and making their voice heard; all play an important role in creation of myths out of mere mortals. Add to these factors a dash of luck and right timing of the propagation of the ideas in the right context by the individual which captures the pulse of the masses which moves them into action. When all these factors act in cohesion, where the nation reverberates to the call of an idea whose time has come, a man rises to become a legend. A mortal then becomes immortal in the pages of history and he goes on to shape the destiny of a nation. A Man then becomes a Mahatma.
In this paper, I make a humble attempt to explore the making of the Modern day Mahatma – Anna Hazare, the pre-freedom baby, the driver, the war hero, the social reformer, the collaborator, the Padmashree Awardee, the activist, the Gandhian, a self-proclaimed Fakir, the anti-corruption movement champion and the media darling who when starts an agitation; causes every leader from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to sit up and take notice. We would explore the journey and the chain of incidents which transformed the life of Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare and catapulted him into one of the most influential non-political leader India has ever witnessed since independence. A man who became a national icon at a time when the people were growing increasingly restless and frustrated with what was happening in the country and were craving for a worthy leader to liberate them from their desperations of a globalized yet unequal society with its ugly face of corruption, power politics and atrocities that was a mockery to the promises made by the leaders of this nation to its people. A man who has captured the imagination of the youth of the country and made them realize that Gandhism was cool and very much relevant in the modern world, so much so that the youth have started to care more and express their voices about what is happening in the country. This paper attempts to explore the evolution of that phenomenon of Anna Hazare – The Modern Mahatma.
Kisan Hazare was born on 15 June 1937 into a lower middle class family which struggled to make its ends meet. His aunt had a strong impact on his childhood, who took him under her wing to provide him with access to education till Class 7 in Mumbai. Due to financial constraints, he dropped out of school and started selling flowers in railway stations of Mumbai and soon started getting involved in local community struggles, where he fought for the rights of the poor who were threatened by landlords who wanted to usurp their small properties. This provided the young Kisan Hazare a taste of vigilantism and seeds of a rebellion and reformative action were sown in the young mind where he became aware of the inequalities prevailing in the society and how collective action was necessary to win justice. Life had other plans in store for this budding vigilante when the Indo-China war broke out in 1962 which lead to the drafting of the young unfit Kisan Hazare into the Indian Army as a soldier where he served as a truck driver. His stint in the army for over a decade and the variety of experiences had considerable impact on the kind of person he eventually turned out to be.
The war scenes, the death tolls and his subsequent miraculous survival in face of death, led Kisan Hazare to contemplate of philosophical questions of life and death and he became deeply religious with a social bent of mind. He started developing a strong urge to make a difference to the world and its people. The views of Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi had a strong bearing on him during this period of time in his life and their philosophies and ideas had tremendous impact on his crusades against corruption later on in his life. After his military stint and accolades, he returned to his ancestral village of Ralegan Siddhi, where his family owned a small patch of ancestral land where his life as a social reformist began. The journey of awakening and the personal sacrifices of the man are often forgotten in light of his achievements but it is this very journey which is more important than arriving well at the destination. And Kisan Hazare’s journey was starkly marked by harsh litmus tests and personal sacrifices that he had to make including a quest to sacrifice his life through fasts onto death for the sake of justice.
The Rise of an Authority:
Chaos demands an order, the end of a storm is marked by calm and to achieve extraordinary feats, sometimes one needs to do what is right according to his moral fiber. This was the story of Kisan Hazare with respect to his life as a social reformer in Ralegan Siddhi. With the burning urge to make an impact and transform the lives of people, Kisan Hazare embarked upon the journey of metamorphosing the impoverished, draught stricken, deprived village of Ralegan Siddhi which was marked by growing alcoholism thanks to a corrupt, inefficient village administration and villagers stuck in a sticky debt trap due to lack of awareness and poor educational levels. The scene in Ralegan Siddhi was no different than thousands of villages across India, but things were slowly about to change. Kisan Hazare arrived at the scene fresh from his awakening at the army and powered with his ideologies shaped by Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda. Kisan Hazare soon adopted the name Anna, which translated to an “elder person” in Marathi. Anna poured his personal fortunes into bringing together the village community into a transformative process of leading the village into a developmental mode.
He re-introduced the ideas of ‘shramadan’ or voluntary labor and took forward the works of Swami Vivekananda by mobilizing the youth to form youth associations for bringing about community change. Anna’s actions were sometimes dictatorial but the intent behind those actions was unquestionable. He saw alcoholism as a major cause of unrest and his workers took strong actions to uproot this evil including smashing illegal liquor manufacturing facilities, public flogging of drunkards and fought for legislative changes in the Bombay Prohibition Act. The nature of a man’s actions must always be understood within the context of his operation. The means to end a social evil might have been a little harsh but it achieved miraculous results. Social consciousness was brought about and the village transformation had begun.
Anna Hazare soon started several initiatives including that of launching a grain bank to support needy farmers, watershed development programmes to improve irrigation in the draught prone areas, abolished the cultivation of water intensive crops, promoted milk production and scientific cattle management, improved the literacy levels of the villagers, successful abolished untouchability and caste discrimination thanks to his moral leadership, introduced the novel concept of collective marriages and successfully campaigned for increased local participation in administrative matter. His strove to empower Gram Panchayats, fought to protect honest government officers from getting biased transfers and battled against the red- tapism in government offices. When we look at all these efforts, we can do little but admire the tenacity, determination and relentlessness of an ordinary high school dropout who took up a cause and came out triumphant at the end of it. The circumstances in which he operated only magnify the greatness of his actions.
As Mukul Sharma puts eloquently – “A person who possesses characteristics of public-spiritedness, honesty, simplicity, and self-sacrifice for the good of the community, and who holds absolute power and command in his village — this is Anna Hazare.” Though his methods were questionable at times, including his authoritarian approach and his moral principles which he sometimes forced upon others though for their own good. Yet, it is this intriguing mix of contradictions that mark the legend of the man along with the popular portrayal of the Anna in a community that desperately needed heroes. One cannot deny that the face of Ralegan Siddhi wouldn’t have been what it is if not for Anna Hazare’s actions. For that we should chose to overlook his shortcomings, for perhaps it was because of these shortcomings and the nature of these shortcomings, that such acts of great transformation were performed were performed by Anna Hazare.
His relentless quest of community transformation of over four decades where he single handedly transformed a remote, unknown village into an ‘ideal village’ model which became the toast of developmental experts and won him several accolades at the national and international level; is a truly remarkable feat. Anna Hazare was catapulted into national fame and won several awards including the Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra award by the Government of India on 1986, the Krishi Bhushana award by the Government of Maharashtra in 1989, the Padmashree in 1990, the Padmabhushan in 1992 and the the Jit Gill Memorial Award for outstanding Public Service in 2008. Anna Hazare was thus slowly but steadily began his journey of making a dent on the National political scenario.
Impact on National Politics:
The Maharashtra government had then relaxed the permissions to open cooperative societies, credit societies & urban banks. But these institutions instead of serving the public, became a places steeped in corruption, mismanagement and dictatorial attitudes of the directors of these institutions failed to return the principal amounts they owed to public. The common man was cheated and Anna started his fight against this form of corruption. His agitation was instrumental in the recovery of several crores of rupees from these defaulting institutions and he became a sort of an iconic figure in fight against corruption. In 1997, Anna Hazare began his agitation to bring about the Right to Information Act to forefront in Maharashtra.
It was a small movement in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan where Anna strove to create awareness about the Right to Information Act amongst the youth. By targeting the youth, Anna Hazare brought to front that significant section of the country which was restless and had low thresholds for mediocrity and corruption and wanted to bring about a change in the functioning of the country. The government continuously ignored the Anna and his agitations. Soon Anna started to travel across Maharashtra gathering support for his fight, it was a relentless struggle where he faced stiff opposition from the government and parties with vested interests but Anna kept at his struggle, continued to create awareness in the society especially amidst the youth. The government soon woke up and promised Anna that they will pass the RTI act but in reality never did. When Anna realized this, he went on an indefinite hunger strike at Azad Maidan in July 2003 which received tremendous publicity, media coverage and support of the masses. After 12 days, the President of finally India signed the draft of the Right to Information Act and ordered the Maharashtra government to implement the same. The draft of this act was considered as the base document for the making of the National Right to Information Act which was passed in 2005. Thus Anna and his ideologies had entered into the national political scene. Every successful leader needs a cause and every successful cause needs a leader. But the Right to Information Act was an unlikely cause which had an unlikely leader who was barely educated up to 7th grade. His persuasion, relentless spirit and unwillingness to take a no for his demands against injustice and corruption were instrumental in his successes.
Meteoric Rise of a National Leader:
Soon Anna realized the effectiveness of his techniques and accelerated his pace of reforming the society and its functioning. In late 2003, after sufficient groundwork and background review Anna Hazare brought to forefront various corruption charges against 4 ministers of the Congress-NCP government and like always the Government ignored his demands. Anna then unleashed his ever so effective weapon of his fast unto death agitation till justice was served on 9 August 2003. He once again had the media, opposition party members and public support backing him. Anna was slowly becoming a menace to the corrupt politicians and a media darling. India was awakening and Anna was leading charge. Anna ended his fast on 17 August 2003 when the Maharasthra chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde formed a one man commission under P. B. Sawant to probe into the allegations made by Anna. The P. B. Sawant commission report was submitted on 23 February 2005, indicted Suresh Jain, Nawab Malik and Padmasinh Patil and this led to their resignations from the state cabinet. Suddenly Anna became an icon who struck fear into the hearts of the government and the popular face of social change.
Anna and the Lokpal Bill:
Come 2011, the numerous corruption scandals that emerged from the Indian government establishment justifiably generated popular public outrage over the mercenary relations that exist between government ministers, senior bureaucrats, opposition politicians and the country’s business houses. The government machinery was filled with scam after scam starting with the 2G scam that rocked the telecom industry, Commonwealth Games Scam, ISRO scam and various defense deal scams. In the light of these events Anna started a hunger strike on 5 April 2011 to exert pressure on the Indian government to enact a strict anti-corruption Lokpal Bill in the Indian Parliament, case in point being the demands to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted under the chairmanship of N. Santosh Hegde. The matter was hot, and media caught on fast leading to nation-wide protests and candle light vigils in support of Anna Hazare. Anna’s fast ended within a week when the government accepted Hazare’s demands and formed a joint committee to draft the anti-corruption legislation.
But the story did not end there, the drama continued with Team Anna rejecting the government’s draft which followed with many more hunger strikes and protests with various personalities entering and exiting the movement at different phases. Anna and his supporters were arrested and released, “I am Anna” campaign gained popularity, alternate political parties were formed, public outcry became huge and government was again forced to consider the demands placed by Team Anna. All these factors narrate a fascinating tale of the surge of the common man under the vanguard of a Gandhi topi wearing revolutionary called Anna Hazare. A variety of factors contributed for making Anna the national hero, some of which are discussed below. The media, internet, the political parties and the Aam Aadmi of India was instrumental in orchestrating a clinical campaign against corruption which forced the government to sit up and take notice of the basic yet unfulfilled demands of its people.
Influence of Political Parties and Media on the Movement:
It is popularly noted that BJP had played an important role during the Anti-corruption crusade at Delhi. The ground for the “fasting” was under their jurisdiction and they made sure that they had not left any stone unturned to help the cause during the campaign and use this to gain political milege against the UPA government in whose tenure the majority of scams were unearthed. This was a very valuable contribution, although there is a strong media upsurge that this was to take the opportunity and project a noble image about the party.
However, Anna Hazare remained unbiased and maintained his stand that he was against “corruption” and did not have any party interests. In fact in few of the press meets Anna has himself mentioned that he was against any party, if they were found corrupt. It must also be noted that personalities belonging to various walks of life also participated in this movement spearheaded by Anna Hazare including Baba RamDev, Ex IPS Kiran Bedi and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, Medha Patkar, Arvind Kejriwal, Jayaprakash Narayan, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Swami Agnivesh and Kapil Dev lent their support to this cause, who all brought in their charisma and media attention to the movement plus their abilities to appeal to a truly national audience. Suddenly the campaign was more than Anna Hazare, though was the godfather, the focus now rightly shifted towards corruption and push for the implementation of an effective Lokpal Bill. All these factors subtly contributed towards the spread of the movement across the nation where multiple candle light vigils were held and the entire civil society for the first time since Independence came out and made their voices heard.
Coming to how Media played a role in this protest. Was the media playing the role of objective messengers in the whole case as they were expected to? There were also several individuals and groups which became involved in the movement to gain publicity and visibility, though they fizzed out over a period of time, they played their crucial roles in keeping the momentum flowing and constantly re-fuelling Anna’s campaign at crucial junctures. Every move of the campaign was noted by media channels and publicized with their own interpretations and biases. It became so party focused that parties started defending themselves that they were not trying to gain mileage from the campaign. Anna Hazare took up corruption, an issue that affects the common man in every aspect of his life ranging from driving license, to getting university admissions to getting a job and created a rallying cry for the nation to join him in his protest. Media contributed heavily in spreading the message by making this into a political debate, by questioning each and every party’s’ moves and contribution to the movement. They labeled few parties including BJP to be in favor of the Lokpal Bill, with selfish motives. Now these so called supporters were walking on thin ice and they slowly started to shy away from limelight.
But Anna Hazare was treated as a media darling and suddenly all the channels, newspapers, radio and internet were singing praises of the Gandhian hero. All his achievements till date were publicized and presented to the public with much galore, which made Anna achieve iconic status which was till then reserved to only Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan in the country. The government’s viewpoints were not completely considered as somewhere down the line media became biased towards the 75 year old man fighting for a national cause. Despite these shortcomings, we cannot disregard the fact that this issue struck the right chord with public and as mentioned above, media and political parties were instrumental in bringing out the best out of this protest bringing Anna to each and every Indian home.
We should be able to agree with the fact that media enabled this protest to be a National movement by ensuring 24×7 coverage and engaging in debates with all the stakeholders that made Lokpal Bill and Anna Hazare a household name in the country. Anna himself humbly passed on the credit to media while accepting the “CNN IBN Indian of the Year Award- 2011” that it was media that made him a national icon from a regional figure in Maharashtra. Media gave Anna the power to get political parties to participate in talk shows, prime time press conferences, Social Media Campaigns and Facebook Pages were full of posts and personalities were tweeting away to glory.
Anna’s movement kept up its momentum and would have never been so powerful if it was not for the contributions of millions of social media enthusiasts. Although Anna was the prime figure for fight for the Lokpal bill; the contributions made by BJP, other political parties, the media and other key personalities cannot be downplayed. Add to this an awakened civil society that wanted to bring about a change. Anna’s crusade against corruption became a true national movement which is bringing about a series of changes in the way the government functions with demands for increased accountability and transparency coming from the common man. Now the ordinary man Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare had become Anna Hazare, the modern day Mahatma.
Making of the Modern Mahatma:
Anna through these agitations was successfully able to execute the Gandhian principles of Satyagraha and moral blackmail of the government to further justice and greater good. To his credit, Anna was a very quick learner who understood how to leverage the stakeholders, media, and public opinion and pressurize the government to meet his demands. He was able to capture the pulse of the people and attack situations with impeccable acumen backed by his undying resolve. Somewhere these qualities lead to a strong parallel to be drawn between Mahatma Gandhi and Anna. Anna like Gandhi mastered the art of holding the governments for a ransom with his threats to fast unto death if his demands weren’t met. These may be referred to as childish behavior but it worked, it captured the imagination of millions of Indians and caused massive PR disasters to those who were against him. But James Farmer Junior quotes; “An unjust law in no law at all; which means I have a right, even a duty to resist, with violence or civil disobedience. You should pray I choose the latter.” Anna did all that was necessary and within his powers to fight for a cause he believed in, he fought to benefit the masses and rid the nation of its corruption malice.
Anna has thus become a legend, a modern day Mahatma in true sense, somewhere because of the efforts of popular media, rise of the internet as a communication channel, support by opposition political parties, backing by individuals and groups with vested interests, public support stemming from their frustration with corruption, growing restlessness in the nation with government failures. There a few controversies surrounding Anna including attempts to murder Anna, his anti- Muslim stance and accusations of fraudulent fasting. But all these take a backseat in the light of Anna being tremendously effective in bringing to forefront the malice of corruption and giving a thunderous voice to the silent cry of a billion Indians patiently waiting for a change.
Gandhi’s political and business acumen was extraordinary, his moral flexibility and his ability to enthrall masses were truly remarkable, who even the great Machiavelli would have been proud to mentor as his protégé. His understanding of the pulse of the people is brilliant, his strategic maneuvering on when to turn on and turn off campaigns and his diplomacy skills with the British were truly legendary. Anna still has some distance to go in mastering these attributes that made Gandhi what he was, but Anna is on the right track, by his sheer commitment and simplicity, Anna has shown that Gandhian principles are more relevant than ever before. By doing so, Anna Hazare has emerged as a true modern day Mahatma who has managed to inspire and mobilize the support of even the ultra-modern Indians for the cause of a prosperous and a corruption free nation, the nation that befits the dreams of our founding fathers.
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