In the last six months, Anna Hazare has gone from being a social activist to a national icon. As the septuagenarian recovers from his 13-day fast in his village Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra, and chalks out future strategies for his agitation, he speaks about being labelled the second Gandhi, the future of party politics in the country, and the need for co-existence, development and corruption alleviation. In an interview with Amruta Byatnal, he says the fight is not against the government, but against its corrupt tendencies. Excerpts from the interview:
You are being called the nation’s next Gandhi. What do you feel about this comparison?
I am not Gandhi, I don’t consider myself anywhere close to him in stature. His life and ideology has had a huge impact on the world. I merely try to imbibe some of his values in my life, like issues of rural development. I would like to appeal to the people not to compare me with him — that is not right. It doesn’t do justice to his greatness.
The anti corruption movement is being compared to the Maoist movement. It is said that both the movements seek to overthrow the state. Is that true?
This is a misunderstanding. We have nothing to do with the government. We are merely ensuring that the corrupt tendencies don’t show their ugly head in people’ lives. It is because of corruption that prices are rising. We are rooting out the corrupt attitude. Our fight is against corruption, not against the government… We do not blame the entire lot. There are some clean people in the government.
You have said that all clean, like-minded people should come together and form a new independent party. How realistic and practical is that in today’s day and age?
I felt it [that a clean party should be formed], so I said it. I hope that it happens. The future lies in like-minded people coming together. Party politics is insufficient; none of the parties are clean. People are forgetting the country is bigger than the party. To add to that, some politicians are becoming bigger than their party. In this bargain, the cause of the country is lost. So I thought that all the clean people should come together for the country.
Even otherwise, our andolan is on. We will use the people’s might to create pressure. It is the need of the hour. Some people find using pressure wrong, but constitution gives us the right to fight for our rights.
You have said that you will undertake campaigns against the MPs who oppose the Jan Lokpal Bill in parliament. Won’t that result in benefitting certain other candidates?
This is what the corrupt politicians should understand. Even in 1991 when we protested against the Congress government in Maharashtra, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena were swarming around us. But when BJP Sena came to power, they also turned out to be equally corrupt.
I have no intentions of favouring any political party. We have always said our andolan’s intention is not to bring down the government. But if the government doesn’t understand the language, the pain of the people, then there will be no regrets if the government falls.
We will continue to protest. At least the politicians will realise that they are being held accountable.
Please specify whether you support Raj Thackeray, and his Marathi Manoos ideology?
No I don’t support him. We have to work towards creating one India, then it won’t matter if the people are Madrasi or Bihari. Otherwise the country will be broken into pieces.
Don’t you think there are more pressing issues that are plaguing India, other than just corruption?
The government hasn’t understood this. For poverty eradication, corruption is not the only answer. Take the example of this village. 80 per cent people were starving. It was a barren land, and people were working in alcohol shops, they walked for ten km to find work, to break stones. Poverty alleviation through development is necessary. Development and corruption eradication go hand in hand. That is why we are taking up other issues of reforms, along with corruption.
You said in your village you haven’t taken money from industrialists or from international funding agencies. But there are allegations that ‘India Against Corruption’ has accepted money from these sources.
For the same reasons, I have ordered a special audit of the expenditure from April till September. If the irregularities are proven, if there is black money pumped into the movement, I will withdraw.
Your movement was heeded to by the government partly because of the huge media attention it got. Why didn't the government respond in the same way to the Maoists' demands? Do you think the government could have stopped them from taking up arms?
Who forced them to take up arms? If the government would have paid proper attention to their demands, they wouldn’t have resorted to violence. As far as the Jan Lokpal Andolan is concerned, I don’t know why the media gave me, a fakir, so much attention.
There is a perception created that if people are against the Jan Lokpal Bill, they are corrupt. Is there no scope for people to have a different opinion on things?
Whatever it is, we have a majority and this is a democracy. We considered what Aruna Roy said too. But after all people supported it, not because Anna says so. There is a need to think about what the people say. They came out in crores of numbers to support the Jan Lokpal Bill.
One of the criticisms of the movement is that only the middle class came out on the streets to support it.
People who say so haven’t seen who all supported us. People are finding it difficult to live because of corruption. The poor came out on the streets. Look at the people who came to Ramlila, they were not people roaming around in AC cars.