Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare was born 15 January 1940), popularly known as Anna Hazare in a small village, Bhingar, near Ahmednagar India. Anna’s father Shri Baburao Hazare worked as an unskilled labourer in Ayurveda Ashram Pharmacy. Anna’s grandfather was in the army and was posted at Bhingar when Anna was born. He died in 1945 but Anna’s father continued to stay at Bhingar. In 1952 Anna’s father resigned from his job and returned to his own village i.e. Ralegan Siddhi. At that time Anna had completed his education up to 4th standard and had six younger siblings. It was with great difficulty that Anna’s father could make two ends meet. Anna’s aunt (father’s sister) took Anna to Mumbai. She was childless and she offered to look after him and his education.
Anna studied upto the 7th standard in Mumbai. He took up a job after the 7th standard in consideration of the economic situation back home. Anna’s father at Ralegan had to work as a daily wage labourer and found it difficult to sustain his family. He was slipping deeper and deeper into debt. He had to sell off one part of his land and mortgage the other. Anna started selling flowers at Dadar in order to make his living. But Anna’s working at somebody’s shop for Rs. 40 a month was not enough. After gaining some experience, he started his own shop and even brought two of his brothers to Mumbai. Gradually Anna’s income went up to Rs. 700 to Rs. 800 per month.
In a couple of years Anna fell into bad company and started wasting his time and money on vices. He also started getting involved in brawls and fights, especially when he found some simple person being harassed by goondas. He became irregular in sending money to his family. The word went around in Ralegan that he had become a bad character himself. In one such fight, Anna bashed up a person rather badly. Fearing arrest, he avoided coming to his regular work and residence for some time. During this period (in April 1960) he appeared in Army recruitment interviews and was selected to join the Indian Army.
Anna Hazare started his career as a driver in the Indian Army. He spent his spare time reading the books of Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave that inspired him to become a social worker and activist. During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, he was the only survivor in a border exchange of fire, while driving a truck. During the mid-1970s he was again involved in a road accident while driving.
He once contemplated suicide and even wrote a two-page essay on why he wanted to end his life. Anna Hazare was not driven to such a pass by circumstances. He wanted to live no more because he was frustrated with life and wanted an answer to the purpose of human existence.
The story goes that one day at the New Delhi Railway Station, he chanced upon a book on Swami Vivekananda. Drawn by Vivekananda’s photograph, he is quoted as saying that he read the book and found his answer – that the motive of his life lay in service to his fellow humans. Today, Anna Hazare is the face of India’s fight against corruption. He has taken that fight to the corridors of power and challenged the government at the highest level. People, the common man and well-known personalities alike, are supporting him in the hundreds swelling to the thousands.
For Anna Hazare, it is another battle. And he has fought quite a few. Including some as a soldier for 15 years in Indian Army. In 1978, he took voluntary retirement from the 9th Maratha Battalion and returned home to Ralegaon Siddhi, a village in Maharashtra’s drought-prone Ahmadnagar. He was 39 years old.
He found farmers back home struggling for survival and their suffering would prompt him to pioneer rainwater conservation that put his little hamlet on the international map as a model village. The villagers revere him. Thakaram Raut, a school teacher in Ralegaon Siddhi says, “Thanks to Anna’s agitations, we got a school, we got electricity, we got development schemes for farmers.”
Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption began here. He fought first against corruption that was blocking growth in rural India. His organization – the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan (People’s movement against Corruption). His tool of protest – hunger strikes. And his prime target – politicians.
His weapon is potent. In 1995-96, he forced the Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra to drop two corrupt Cabinet Ministers. In 2003, he forced the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) state government to set up an investigation against four ministers. Maharashtra stalwarts like Sharad Pawar and Bal Thackeray have often called his style of agitation nothing short of “blackmail”.
But Anna Hazare has soldiered on relentless. From one battle to another in his war against corruption. He fought from the front to have Right to Information (RTI) implemented. He is now fighting for the implementation of the Jan Lokpal Bill, an anti-corruption bill drafted by leading members of civil society that envisages speedy action in corruption cases against everyone, including ministers and senior bureaucrats.
More than 30 years after Anna Hazare started his crusade, as the 72-year-old observes a hunger strike in Delhi against large-scale corruption at the national level, nothing really has changed except the scale of his battle.