Hazare in Gandhi’s footsteps
In the news in India and all over the world is anticorruption activist Anna Hazare who began a hunger strike that led to similar protests in India.
The latest issue of Time magazine carries a half-page photo of him with the caption, “Why does Delhi fear this man? Anticorruption activist Anna Hazare is surrounded by admirers at a memorial to Mohandas Gandhi in New Delhi on Aug. 15. Seeking to pressure the government into pushing through proposed reforms, Hazare, 74, and hundreds of supporters were arrested for attempting to start a hunger strike without permission. That sparked protests around the country.”
Many young Indians have joined the campaign and are flashing placards with the words “I am Anna, you are Anna, now the whole country is Anna.” It is like our own Pinoy “I am Ninoy” catchphrase.
What I noticed right away in the online articles on Hazare was the involvement in the issue of Ramon Magsaysay awardees from India Aruna Roy (Community Leadership, 2000) and Arvind Kerjiwal (Emergent Leadership, 2006). Their names rang a bell right away. (I had written about them and their advocacies. Kerjiwal, a journalist who used his pen to fight poverty, had been our guest speaker in the Inquirer.) Social activist Roy, like the famous novelist Arundathi Roy, does not approve of Hazare’s methods, while Kerjiwal supports Hazare. Another Indian RM awardee, Kiran Bedi (Government Service, 1994), is also a supporter of Hazare.
Hazare has shaken government institutions and raised awareness about corruption. At the heart of Hazare’s campaign is the Jan Lokpal Bill (citizen’s ombudsman bill), an anticorruption bill being pushed by civil society groups seeking the setting up of a Jan Lokpal, an independent body that would investigate corruption cases, complete the investigation within a year and prosecute if necessary. Very much like our own Office of the Ombudsman.
A New York Times News Service article that came out in the Inquirer last Tuesday said that despite boiling temperatures during the weekend, people streamed into a public place in the capital, Delhi, to join Hazare on the sixth day of his anticorruption hunger strike. And in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, thousands gathered and marched through the city. Peaceful rallies were also held in other parts of the country.
A young student was quoted as saying, “(Hazare) has an X-factor. He is fighting for us. He is fighting for young India.” Many professionals and families with young children, even the middle class that used to be called apathetic, have joined Hazare’s campaign.
Why? The Indian government has been embroiled in corruption scandals that caused outrage and moved many to join Hazare’s protest moves.
Sounds familiar? The Philippines may be a step ahead because we have the Office of the Ombudsman but we all know what became of it under someone’s watch, and we all know about the plunder that went on unabated. Now every other day we learn of yet another big-time corruption scandal that happened under the past administration. Even the massive election cheating that we all knew happened but thought would never be unraveled, just suddenly all came under the light. But will anyone, big or small, go to prison?
Ah, but so many cases of corruption will remain hidden if the Freedom of Information bill is not passed.
We could feel sorry for the small fry who keep saying they just followed orders (and kept a tiny fraction of the loot). They should be pinned down so that they would cough up the truth about their bosses. Like that bookkeeper who gave an incredible story about the scandalous helicopter deals involving the former first gentleman. She ended up in the Senate detention cell.
Who is Hazare? Hazare served as a soldier in the Indian Army but retired at the young age of 39, after which he went home to his village in the state of Maharasthra and helped poor farmers by pioneering in rainwater conservation. This earned his village international recognition. He then worked for electrification, building of schools and livelihood for the poor. He would later set up the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan (People’s Movement Against Corruption).
Hazare’s main protest weapon is hunger strike. He has his share of critics who call his style a form of blackmail. But his supporters are growing. An NDTV online article said: “But 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 governments to set up an investigation against four ministers. In April this year, four days of fasting brought thousands of people out in support of his crusade against corruption. They also made the government realize it could not be dismissive about Anna Hazare and his mass appeal.”
Hazare may not be all that original, having imitated the protest style of Gandhi, the Mahatma. Gandhi was, of course, an original. He was an original even in his experiments with celibacy. But that’s another story. He fasted and led marches to end British rule in a non-violent way and, after that, worked to end the strife between the Hindus and the Muslims. He died a martyr for peace.
India has a special place in my heart because I spent almost a year there, trying to discover the spirituality in my Asianness, and the Asianness of my soul. I stayed for a month in an ashram where Gandhi had stayed and in several other sacred places, both Christian-Catholic and Hindu. It was a journey.
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