the face of a movement
Tribune News Service
Mumbai, April 7
Fondly called Anna or elder brother by his followers, Hazare enjoys sufficient clout in the state to force bureaucrats and even ministers to wing down to his humble dwelling, lugging bulky government files to try and dispel allegations of corruption. Scores of activists under his Brashtrachar Virodhi Andolan use the Right to Information and pore through documents to expose allegations of wrongdoing in high places.
Chief Ministers who fell foul of Anna and whose tenures were cut short include the likes of Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena who went on to arrest Hazare, his party-colleague-turned-Congressman Narayan Rane, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan.
It came, therefore, as no surprise when Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar promptly quit the Group of Ministers on corruption as soon as Hazare began his fast in New Delhi. Pawar has too many enemies in Maharashtra, many of whom will happily pull out files incriminating the Maratha strongman and hand over copies to Hazare?s supporters.
In 2003 he took on leaders like the strongman of Jalgaon Sureshdada Jain, Padamsinh Patil - a relative of Sharad Pawar, Nawab Malik and Vijay Kumar Gavit. Jain retaliated by going on a hunger strike himself against Hazare but faced severe embarrassment when an inquiry commission set up by the Maharashtra government indicted him for corruption. Like Jain, Malik too had to quit but Padamsinh Patil turned Hazare into a well-known icon in Maharashtra.
After Hazare levelled allegations, NCP leader Patil allegedly hired some goons to kill the social worker. However the hitmen refused to kill Hazare and the contract put out on him had to be withdrawn. Instead, Patil allegedly got his cousin and political rival Pavanraje Nimbalkar killed to settle political scores after the duo fell out.
The matter came to light three years later in 2009 when the two alleged hitmen confessed before the CBI that they were originally hired to kill Hazare for Rs 25 lakh but were later tasked to kill Nimbalkar. Apparently Nimbalkar had provided the social worker with incriminating documents against Patil.
The past two years have seen Hazare look into the functioning of Maharashtra?s Public Works and road transport departments, said to be the most corrupt bodies in Maharashtra. Just last month Hazare’s complaints that toll contractors were extracting more money from road users than was mandated by the agreements signed with them caused a furore, forcing the state government to open the books of road building companies.
Few would have thought that Hazare would come this far when he dropped out of Class 7 due to financial problems. After a number of odd jobs that included peddling flowers at a stall outside a temple, Hazare joined the Army where he drove a truck. Twice he survived attacks by the Pakistanis in the 1965 war.
Convinced that he was divinely ordained to do something in life, Hazare took voluntary retirement from the Army and returned home to his ancestral village Ralegan Siddhi where rampant poverty and mass alcoholism awaited him.
Showing early signs of his public management skills, Hazare abandoned his house to live in the temple housing the village diety, Yadavbaba. Utilising his retirement benefits, Hazare spruced up the almost abandoned shrine and took up residence in a 100 sq ft room adjoining it. Having won over the villagers, Hazare set about getting them to take up a vow against alcoholism.
Soon, Hazare got working on the rural economy, pushing rain water harvesting to improve the water tables. Afforestation programmes and a ban on open grazing of cattle apart from a population control programme worked wonders for the people of Ralegan Siddhi. Hazare also pushed the villagers into selling their old cattle to butchers, thereby releasing them from the burden of supporting useless beasts.
Other initiatives which followed turned Ralegan Siddhi into one of Maharashtra?s ideal villages where local people did not have to migrate to cities for survival.