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Anna Hazare’s very first media interview after his first innings in Jantar Mantar.

Posted on: December 6, 2011

“Whenever there is peril, God sends someone to tackle it. This time, he has sent me.”

 

A huge crowd has gathered outside a temple in Ralegan Siddhi, 87 kilometres from Pune, for a glimpse of the man who brought the government to its knees last week. As Anna Hazare walks into a large courtyard, the visitors — from an eight-year-old boy to a retired Air Force officer — rush to touch his feet. He sits on a mattress in his room in the temple premises and meets a stream of people. After a four-day hunger strike in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, forcing the government to agree to his demand that a committee be set up for a Jan Lokpal Bill to battle corruption, he’s back home. Some call him a Gandhi; others see him as a blackmailer. But in his first comprehensive interview to the media, the 72-year-old ex-army man tells me that he is the “same Anna”.

Q: Didn’t you blackmail the government by threatening to fast to death till your demands for a Jan Lokpal Bill were met?

A: I don’t think it was blackmail. Demonstration and fasting are the most democratic forms of protest. For those who think it was blackmail, let them think so. I will continue to blackmail the government till the time I am alive. I am ready to sacrifice my life for the nation.

Q: Some would say it’s undemocratic — because you are questioning an elected Parliament.

A: It is not undemocratic because people are the owners of the country while our elected representatives in Parliament are our servants. They have to work according to our wishes. As common citizens, it is our duty to show the government the right path.

Q: What is the path?

A: The Lokpal Bill that the government had proposed had no teeth. So we — members of civil society — drafted a Jan Lokpal Bill which has more teeth. We demanded that the government form a joint drafting committee with 50 per cent of its members from civil society to study our proposed document and draft the Jan Lokpal Bill before June 30. Also, we want the bill to be passed in Parliament by August 15 this year.

Q: Why should you set a date for the bill to be passed? The bill needs to be discussed comprehensively.

A: The bill would get at least two months for a debate. Why do you need more time than that? All bills should be passed in a stipulated period of time to avoid inordinate delays.

Q: Who should decide what the law should be — Anna or the government?

A: I am a representative of the people. The government often finalises a law as per its whims and fancies. Laws need to be made for the people, so the people should be included in the process.

Q: How representative is your group? Your five nominees in the drafting committee of the Jan Lokpal Bill are Justice N. Santosh Hedge, senior advocates Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal. Do they represent the nation?

A. They are not my own people. They are the representatives of the masses. These people are well-respected in society. Each one has done enough for society.

Q: You had said that the majority of voters can easily be bribed. Isn’t that an elitist remark? Don’t you think you are actually disrespecting voters who supported you?

A. I referred to a specific class of people who can be bought. But what is the guarantee that the same class of people supported me in this movement?

Q: Are you getting swept off your feet by the public adulation that you have evoked in the last few weeks?

A: When the public is in front of me, I get enthusiastic. I never thought that all of India would be so supportive. Jab jab samaj mein sankat aata hai, bhagwaan kisiko bhejta hai. Aur issbaar mereko bheja hai (whenever there is peril, God sends someone to tackle it. This time, he has sent me). I am no hero. If I had a feeling of great achievement, I should have been a changed person with a halo around my head. But I haven’t changed — I am still the same Anna.

Q: Is going on a fast the solution to all problems? Everyone can then start a fast to pressure the government.

A: It is not easy to fast. One has to be disciplined in life and also hold strong principles. Those who are spotlessly clean and have the courage to sacrifice their lives can sit on long fasts. But this is a democratic way to register your voice.

Q: Your 1996 experiment in Maharashtra failed. Bureaucrats say that the state government appointed your people in district committees to check corruption, but soon found that they were busy making money themselves. The anti-corruption scheme was hastily wound up.

A: I don’t think my people were corrupt. The officials weren’t made accountable. So the scheme failed.

Q: Do you think one anti-corruption body — the Jan Lokpal — can free India of corruption?

A: It will not eradicate corruption. But it will put a break on it. Now, before taking bribes, people will at least do a rethink because of the fear of being prosecuted. The law will be a great weapon for the poor to fight against injustice. What we need is an implementation process. To make laws effective, we need to decentralise them. The responsibility should be given to officials at the district and block levels to make laws effective.

Q: People have criticised your demand that the selection committee members must include Magsaysay awardees of the last two years. Isn’t it a classic case of the privileged elite being the deciding power?

A: Not all people lobby for such awards. The names that I suggested in the selection committee are well-respected in society.

Q: Many say the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is using your platform to attack the government.

A: (Looking agitated) No, the BJP never did that.

Q: Are you a supporter of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi?

A. I never supported Modi. Answering a media query on how I saw the development in Bihar and Gujarat, I said I applauded the work that Modi had done in Gujarat and Nitish Kumar in Bihar. But I also mentioned that I didn’t support the communal violence that we saw under Modi’s regime. But unfortunately the media never published the latter part of my comment.

Q: Modi has written an open letter to you, seeking your blessings. What do you say about that?

A: I have not seen that letter.

Q: But the controversy continues. Medha Patkar and others have sought an explanation from you for showering praise on Modi.

A: Their anger is justified because they don’t know the truth.

Q: Do you have a political agenda? Members of the Sangh were present at yourdharna in Delhi. Swami Ramdev, who was by your side, has floated a political party.

A: I have no political agenda. They participated as citizens of the country. I had never let anyone use that platform for their political interests. And I had no idea about Ramdev’s political party.

Q: Your mannerisms are like Gandhi’s. People have been referring to you as the second Gandhi.

A: I follow Gandhi’s teachings but I am not Gandhi. Kahan Gandhi aur kahan main(Where’s Gandhi, and where am I!). People can give me any names but I am a commoner who is a Gandhi follower.

Q: How are you feeling now after the long fast?

A: I am feeling physically weak but I don’t need to see a doctor. I have never taken a single injection in my entire life. I am fit otherwise.

Q: What is your diet?

A: In the morning, I drink milk and eat fruits. I have a meal of vegetables just once a day. For dinner, I have fruits or juice.

Q: You have gone on long fasts on 10 occasions. How do you manage that?

A: I do yoga regularly for an hour and a half. I get up at 5.30am. My disciplined lifestyle helps sustain me during the fasts.

Q: What is your source of income?

A: I get Rs 6,000 as pension as an ex-army employee. My bank balance is barely Rs 40,000.

Q: What about allegations that you spent Rs 2 lakh from the Hind Swaraj Trust on your birthday?

A. I am a trustee. The other trustees wanted to celebrate my 61st birthday and proposed to take the money out of the trust, and then put it back again. I am not involved in this at all.

Q: A death wish seems to follow you around. When you were in the Army as a driver, you wanted to commit suicide. What happened?

A: I survived the two Indo-Pakistan wars in 1965 and 1971 when many of my colleagues died in front of my eyes. My self-esteem was so low that I thought of committing suicide. But I realised that this was the easiest way of dealing with pain. I sought voluntary retirement and returned to my ancestral village, Ralegan Siddhi, in 1975 and started my work. I’d read the works of Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda, who always spoke about working at the grassroot level. I followed their teachings.

My village was a barren land, so I started working towards making it fertile. I initiated programmes such as tree planting and terrace farming to reduce soil erosion. For energy, we generated solar power from biogas and windmills.

Q: Do you regret that you couldn’t study beyond Class VIII?

A: I have worked for the people more than any graduate would have. You don’t have to be educated to render your life to society.

Q: What do you do during your leisure time?

A: I read spiritual and religious books to get recharged whenever I feel low. I also love gardening.

(Published on April 17, 2011)

 

 

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