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Anna Hazare becomes a youth icon

Anna Hazare is a modern-day Gandhi with the abolition of graft in his sights

Anna Hazare becomes a youth icon
Anna Hazare (sitting left), Mumbai

May 9, 2011

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Anna Hazare, widely known as the last Gandhian, who forced the federal government to agree to introduce stringent anti-graft legislation, has become a rallying point for youths in India. The 71-year-old former Indian army driver-turned-social reformer’s five-day hunger-strike, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi galvanized youths across religions. It also imitated freedom fighter Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who drove the mighty British imperialists out of India. Hundreds of thousands of people joined Hazare’s crusade. As the wave of support grew into an avalanche through candle-lit rallies in many towns and cities in India and from around the world through social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the April 5-9 fast for an anti-graft law shook the Congress-led federal government and brought it to its knees to concede to the popular demand. Since then a team of federal ministers and Hazare and his representatives have had two meetings to draft an anti-corruption bill to be introduced in the monsoon session of parliament. Hazare has threatened another hunger-strike if the anti-corruption bill is not passed before Independence Day on August 15. Hazare would not have evoked such unprecedented public support had it not been for his austere Gandhian lifestyle. The white topi (cap) worn and popularized by Gandhi is back, and has captured the popular imagination of the masses. Writing about the “Father of the Nation,” Einstein said that “generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this [Gandhi] ever in flesh and blood walked on this earth.” The half-naked fakir touched the scientist deeply. The next generation who will not see the last Gandhian – Hazare -- in the flesh will perhaps express similar sentiments. Born Kisan Baburao Hazare, his journey from the non-descript Yadavbaba temple in Ralegan Siddhi, a village of 3,000 near Pune where he lives, to becoming a youth icon has been a remarkable four-decade long story. Hazare’s singular motive to rid the country of corruption, especially in government, ignited the masses which have had to bribe officials to obtain basic documents such as passports or birth and death certificates. Two things changed the frail man’s life dramatically and spurred him into being the icon to the younger generation that he is today -- poverty and divine intervention. In 1991 he went on hunger-strike at Yadavbaba temple seeking the dismissal of four corruption-tainted ministers in Maharashtra. During his six-day protest, his newly-launched Brashtrachar Virodhi Jan Andolan, a movement to eradicate corruption, spread far and wide. At that time his mother Laxmibai and father Baburai lived in a hut a few meters away from the temple. Hazare had returned to his village after leaving the army and had become a sadhu, a sanyasi, a vairagi (a poor mystic). Hazare’s father was a daily-wage laborer and found it hard to make ends meet, so his childless aunt took Hazare to Mumbai, where he studied up to seventh grade before making a living selling flowers at Dadar railway station. However, in April 1960, he soon got into a fight with local thugs who were harassing people. Having beaten one of them badly and fearing arrest, Hazare ran away and joined the army. During the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, he was driving a military truck which was attacked by a Pakistani plane. Hazare miraculously escaped unhurt. He also had another miraculous escape when he was posted to Nagaland in northeast India. One night, Naga rebels attacked his military post and killed his comrades. But “Anna,” (elder brother in the Marathi language) as Hazare is reverently called in Maharashtra, had gone out relieve himself at the time. These two events left a deep impact and he realized that God had a special mission for him. As Hazare began reflecting and meditating on these events during a train journey, he came across a small booklet titled Call to the Youth for Nation Building by Swami Vivekananda at a bookstall at New Delhi railway station. He was touched by Vivekananda's thoughts, which he said gave meaning to his life. There and then he decided to devote the rest of his life to working for the poor and went on to read many books by Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. In 1975, he completed 15 years in the army, which was long enough to earn him an army pension. He did not go home but went straight to Yadavbaba temple in the village and made that his home. He was shocked to see his village had become a place distilling liquor and was seriously affected by drought. First he organized the youths, spent his savings to renovate the temple and began rainwater a collection program and introduced a scheme called Adarsh Gram Yojana for his village. This included introducing family planning as well as enforcing abstinence from tobacco and liquor and banning wanton grazing and tree-cutting. Drunkards were rounded up and tied to a pole at the temple and punished. Soon Ralegan Siddhi became a model village with a special school for dropouts and a boarding school for poor children. Anna eats the same food as the boarders and only has his army pension as an income. Living in a small room in the temple, Anna has become a national icon for his sacrifice and nation building. ID14124
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