Sharad Mathur

Anna Hazare: Patriarch of the Indian Anti-Corruption Movement

Sharad Mathur

Anna Hazare


During his transformation of Ralegan Siddhi, Anna Hazare utilised his moral authority (a la Gandhi) to a large extent. He called for a boycott of alcohol and smoking in the village and villagers complied. “It was Holi, the festival that represents the triumph of good over evil, and I asked my fellow villagers to avoid these things that have evil influence on our village. I asked them to burn the cigarettes, the beedis (Indian cigarettes), zarda and gutka (two forms of chewable tobacco). The villagers bought every last piece available in the village and burnt them in the grand Holi pyre,” says Hazare emphatically. Since that day, for the last 16 years, tobacco products have not been sold in Ralegan Siddhi. This moral authority, arising from his Indian ascetic appeal, would help him lead much bigger movements in time to come.

The Anti Corruption Movement of Maharashtra

In 1991, Anna Hazare launched Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan (BVJA, People’s Movement against Corruption) to take on the corruption in government machinery. Telling me why he chose to fight the war on corruption, he said, “Looking at the government development work in Ralegan Siddhi, I could see a lot of perforation of resources happening. I had to oppose it.” He got action initiated against 40 forest officials for their collusion with timber merchants.

The scope of this fight against organised corruption increased when he was given the responsibility of leading the government’s Adarsh Gaon Yojna (ideal village scheme). He travelled across Maharashtra and selected 300 villages under this scheme and during this he saw that organised corruption in the government machinery was hampering development work in the rural areas. “Wherever I saw corruption, I opposed it. I toured all over Maharashtra  18 times. I went to 33 districts and 252 blocks within the state. Soon it assumed shape of a movement,” said Hazare.

Being the one who expresses his opinions openly, he did not fear demanding action against two ministers in the state government who had amassed assets disproportionate to their income. He sat on a hunger strike in Alandi and the government was forced to set up an inquiry, post which two ministers and 400 officers were sacked. In 2003, he undertook a fast until death to raise the issue of corruption by four ministers in Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government. To end his fast, the government was forced to set up a one-man commission headed by retired justice PB Sawant to probe his charges. Three of these ministers – Sureshdada Jain, Nawab Malik, and Padmasinh Patil – were indicted in the commission’s report and had to resign.

He also faced retribution while fighting corruption. In 1997, he accused the then social welfare minister Baban Gholap for receiving kickbacks for siphoning off government corporations’ funds into a bankrupt private bank. In response, the minister filed a defamation suit against Hazare. The latter was indicted by the court and was asked to give an undertaking that he will not make such allegations anymore. Known for his courage of conviction, Hazare could not accept it. However, he asserted his position by politely refusing to do so and chose to go to jail for three months instead. He defended his rights and values without being offensive to the honourable court. Subsequently, due to public pressure, the Shiv Sena-BJP government was forced to release Anna Hazare. Later in 1999, Hazare’s stand was vindicated when Gholap was convicted of corruption and sentenced to a three years imprisonment by an anti-corruption court.

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When I asked him how he not only bore the tremendous stress but also positively managed it into a driving force, he told me “In the last 30 years, I am tolerating insults. Six corrupt cabinet ministers in Maharashtra government were sent packing, 400 corrupt officers were sacked. Did it happen through my words? Did I ask them to leave and they left? They slandered me. They sued me. They threw me in jail. But I was prepared to bear it all. Once you are prepared to bear it all, there is nothing they can do. Keep working truthfully because truth alone triumphs.”

The RTI Movement

“When you hold the government by the nose, its mouth opens. Six cabinet ministers were sent home. Four hundred officers were dismissed. Then I thought to myself, has corruption been eliminated only by the exit of these corrupt politicians and government officers. I realised only this was not enough. We needed to change the system. My first step towards this was the Right to Information (RTI) movement,” remembers Hazare.

He pressed the Maharashtra government to legislate an act for right to information (RTI). His first campaign was organized at the Azad Maidan, Mumbai, in 1997. He went from one village to another in Maharashtra to awaken the people. He told them that on January 26, 1950, India had become a republic and the people had become the masters of this nation. The national treasure is theirs. They have only sent the MLAs and MPs to plan the use of their money. It is their right to know how and where their money is being spent.

RTI Movement - Web

With the increasing public awareness, government had to consider Hazare’s demand and promised to legislate the RTI Act. However, it was not really doing much to fulfil this promise and allowed many sessions of legislative assembly to pass by without presenting the bill. This only fuelled Hazare’s determination. Finally, with a do or die zeal, Hazare went on fast-unto-death in Mumbai’s Azaad Maidan on August 9, 2002. With a spark in his eye, Hazare recalls the consequences of this, “I staged a dharna (protest). On the 12th day, the president of India signed the Maharashtra RTI act. Although there was no need for sending it to Delhi, then Maharashtra government did it anyway to delay the passing of the act. I met the then home minister of India, Lal Krishna Advani, and asked him to expedite the process.” Cheeky as he was, he told Advani, “If it does not happen, I might have to come to Delhi for a dharna.” Advani promptly sent it to the president for his signature. Maharashtra thus became the first state in India to grant a right to information (RTI) to its citizens.

From working to uplift his own village, to fighting the corruption, and winning the right to information for all 110 million citizens of his state Maharashtra, Hazare successfully adapted his emotions, thoughts and behaviours to unfamiliar, unpredictable, and dynamic circumstances and ideas.

India Against Corruption

Explaining the beginning of his involvement with the India Against Corruption movement, Hazare told me, “I was running my anti-corruption and RTI movement in Maharashtra. But I was not alone. Other people were also doing the same in different parts of the country, albeit without as much success. Some of them came to meet me and wanted get my support. Then in Delhi an anti-corruption movement was launched under the name India Against Corruption.”

The main aim of this movement was to alleviate corruption from government machinery in India through the passing of a strong Jan Lokpal bill (people’s ombudsman bill). Hazare demanded that in the drafting of Lokpal and Lokayukta (two forms of ombudsman) bills there should be an involvement of people. The movement gained momentum in April 2011, when Hazare held a fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar in Delhi after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rejected the demand. This attracted a lot of support for the movement from all quarters. His moral authority was influencing people across the nation. Spontaneous protests in his support erupted in different Indian cities and many eminent people from public sphere openly supported his demand. Bowing down, as most governments do in face of public protests, the central government constituted a joint committee which had five senior ministers of the government and five civil society representatives. The current president of India, Pranab Mukherjee who was then the finance minister, was appointed chairman of this committee.

India Against Corruption - Web

However, the seeds of conflict in this drafting committee were clearly visible in its first meeting on April 16, 2012. While the government agreed to audio record the proceedings of this committee, it refused Hazare’s demand of telecasting them live to ensure utmost transparency. The differences only escalated and the government representatives wanted to submit two drafts to the cabinet if consensus was not reached. Anna saw through this ploy for side-tracking the concerns of the members of civil society and did not agree to it. With the government’s non-cooperative stance, Hazare planned a fast with his team of activists on August 16, 2011. The government did not want him to do that and imposed section 144 (which prohibited a public gathering of more than five people to crush Hazare’s movement) and got Hazare arrested along with 1200 of his supporters. Even though he was sent to the Tihar jail as he refused to sign the bail bond, he did not end his fast.

This act of defiance on part of Hazare fuelled protests across the country. Parliament was unable to function due to uproar by the opposition on this issue. Hazare called his struggle the ‘second freedom struggle’ and thousands of people all over the country answered his jail bharo (fill the jails) call. There was just not enough room in the police lock-up to fit in so many protestors. Once again, the government was on its knees and had to release Hazare from the jail and allow him his protest at a different location (Ramlila Ground in Delhi instead of the Jai Prakash Narayan National Park). On August 19, he addressed the people and declared that he will not leave the ground till the Jan Lokpal Bill was passed.

On August 27, 2011, a debate on the Jan Lokpal Bill was held in the parliament. Both the houses of parliament agreed in principle to the idea of Jan Lokpal Bill and Hazare broke his fast. After this, however, the movement got only weaker. One of Hazare’s most trusted lieutenants in this movement, Arvind Kejriwal, saw it was futile to continue discussions with the political establishment. He saw no other alternative but to jump right into the electoral politics to change it. An ascetic at heart, who is always self-directed and free from emotional dependency, Hazare’s decision-making was completed autonomously. He disagreed. “I very clearly told Arvind (Kejriwal) that I do not wish to be part of any political party. My path was that of service and struggle, as shown by Mahatma Gandhi. I asked him if he is floating a political party, how he would set the criteria for checking if the members who get inducted in his party will be of good character. He could not come up with a satisfactory answer. I had asked him five questions, but I did not receive any answers. I warned him that dishonourable people he should be fighting might end up in his own party. Look at his party today, did it not happen?”

With the departure of Arvind Kejriwal, and with him many other stalwarts of the movement, India Against Corruption grew weaker. The government discarded the previously proposed Lokpal Bill and prepared a new version of. Although, Hazare led another protest in December against it, the movement had already fizzled out. “If they had implemented the draft we had prepared, 80% of the country’s corruption would be eliminated. Even if they implement government’s draft signed by then president, 50% of our corruption could be eliminated. But nobody would let that bill pass. The current central government had promised in their election campaigns that they would pass the bill. It has not happened yet,” says a disappointed Hazare.

However, Hazare was disappointed but not defeated. He remains hopeful and resilient, despite the setback. He has since then continued to give voice to the voiceless and has pushed for democratic reforms; the latest amongst them is a call for electoral reform which shall remove the use of election symbols during the elections. “If that happens, then the loyalties of candidates will remain more with the people they represent and less with their political party,” says Hazare brimming with hope.


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