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From an armyman to a fierce social crusader

For the man, who once contemplated committing suicide during his stint in the Indian Army, putting his life at stake for social causes has now become second nature. Yogesh Joshi reports.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2011 00:51 IST
Yogesh Joshi

For the man, who once contemplated committing suicide during his stint in the Indian Army, putting his life at stake for social causes has now become second nature.

Septuagenarian Kisan Baburao Hazare — affectionately called Anna — who claims to tread on the path of Satyagraha, has undertaken a fast unto death in New Delhi to force the establishment to enact a stringent law to tackle corruption.

Recipient of Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan, Hazare’s agitation for the enactment of the Jan Lokpal Bill is the fourth such major campaign. However, this fight isn’t against a single individual from his home state, Maharashtra. This time, the anti-corruption crusader is facing a powerful opponent — the Centre.

In his public life, Hazare has resorted to hunger strike eight times and has also observed silence as a part of agitations.

“When nothing works, measures like hunger strike really bring results and Hazare understands this well,” said Vivek Welankar, an activist from Pune and head of the Sajag Nagrik Manch.

A native of Ralegan Siddhi, a village in Ahmednagar district of western Maharashtra, Hazare spent 15 years in the army. During this period, the activist confessed, he had thought of “committing suicide”.

After opting for voluntary retirement in 1977, Hazare returned to his village and decided to spend his life fighting for “social causes”.

Through the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan, an organisation to fight corruption founded in 1991, Hazare went on a hunger strike demanding action against 42 forest officials involved in duping the government through corruption in confederacy. The state government succumbed and acted against the “corrupt” officials.

In 1995-96, the Manohar Joshi-led government divested Shashikant Sutar and Mahadeo Shivankar of their portfolios after the activist resorted to a no-solid-food fast.

Hazare’s biggest success was when the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine was forced to constitute a commission under retired justice PB Sawant to probe corruption charges against four ministers — Padamsinh Patil (accused of diverting funds meant for Kargil martyrs), Suresh Jain (facing charges of malpractices at Jalgaon District Cooperative Bank), Nawab Malik (involved in a land scam) and Vijay Kumar Gavit. The action came after Hazare went on a 10-day hunger strike.

But Hazare has had his share of brickbats. Suresh Jain had alleged that Hazare used Rs2 lakh from the funds of his Hind Swaraj Trust for his birthday celebrations. The commission observed that “such acts amounts to malpractices”.

Politicians such as Sharad Pawar and Bal Thackeray also termed Hazare’s style as “blackmailing”. Despite the allegations, Hazare continued to lend support to campaigns such as the enactment of the Right to Information Act.

“Hazare’s hunger strike has been the best tool to force the government,” said Arun Bhatia, an activist and retired bureaucrat.

A life dedicated to serving humanity
Born in an agrarian family on June 15, 1938, at Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar district of western Maharashtra, Kisan Baburao Hazare would have been different man had he not spent his life in the Indian Army. He joined the army after the Indo-China war in 1962.

During his 15-year stint, Hazare served as a truck driver. Having survived an air attack from Pakistan in 1965, Hazare decided to dedicate his life to serving humanity after reading books by Swami Vivekananda.

He quit his army job and returned to his native place in 1977. It was Hazare’s efforts that turned Ralegan Siddhi from drought-prone to a water surplus village.

During the late 1990s Hazare realised the need to bring transparency in the system and joined the campaign for the Right to Information Act.

“He has been a source of inspiration not just for his village, but the entire state,” said Datta Aware, who manages his work in Ralegan Siddhi.