Bigger Than Protest: Anna Hazare's Transformative Plan for India

The social leader's movement comes at a pivotal time for India

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Anna Hazare leads an August demonstration in New Delhi / AP

This is part two of a two-part profile of Anna Hazare. Read part one, on his amazing rise.

RALEGAN SIDDHI, India -- On the afternoon we visited the home town of Indian activist Anna Hazare, about 100 supporters and students sat on the ground beneath a peepal tree in the courtyard of the gated Padmavati temple compound, where he has lived since returning from his August hunger strike in New Delhi.

Hazare sat on a raised platform, just to the left of a sculpture of Mohandas Gandhi, the inspiration behind Hazare's work in this small town. The 74-year-old Hazare has a Gandhian look himself, dressed in white homespun cotton and a white topi cap, though whereas Gandhi's smile often had a certain mischievous quality, Hazare is usually earnest and often stern. He was seated at a table filled with microphones, on two bright-red vinyl chairs that have been stacked together to add height.

He talked for half an hour, on subjects from high politics -- his defiant pledge to continue the anti-corruption campaign until it succeeds, even if it takes 12 years -- to a warning about students who waste time smoking and drinking. "Have you ever heard that someone was a drinker and became a powerful person?" he asked. "We should think about what we are doing. What should I be doing? Think about it!"

After the public talk we followed him into the temple compound room that has become his new home. (Before becoming famous, he had lived for 35 years in a plainly furnished 10-by-12 room at the back of another temple down the road.) Barefoot, Hazare sat cross-legged on a bed with a blue-and-white striped mattress, answering questions in between reading or signing a steady stream of papers his aides would bring in.

The room contained otherwise only a few plastic chairs, a small television, a spinning wheel, and a ceiling fan whirring overhead.

"I do not like to be compared to Gandhi," Hazare declared. "No one can understand Gandhi and no one can be like him." Still, he refers to Gandhi frequently and with reverence. "Those who are non-violent but do not have character will not succeed," he said.

Hazare's dream is to reduce inequalities, protect the natural environment, and preserve its resources. But he insists he wants to do this without joining the government. "Those in government lose their vision for the future," he said.

His plan is no less lofty than his goals. "Education that does not develop social responsibility," he said, "is not true education. What we have to teach is the practice of being human."

Hazare, whose push for sweeping anti-corruption legislation has included two hunger strikes and inspired massive protests, wants India to start where he did: locally. "We must concentrate our work in the villages. It's what Gandhi said -- that villagers should not move to the cities. If there is food, health, employment in the villages, then the people will stay. Gandhiji always said if you want to change the economic structure of the country you should change the rural economics. If you want to change the rural economics then you have to start within each and every village. If the village creates jobs then the people won't have to go to the city to look for work."

"We should take action," Hazare told us. "That's what Gandhi says: 'My life is my message.' We must prove our words by our actions." He ended on a cautionary note: "If political leaders do not follow the words of the masses, they will not stay in power. People should realize that we have the power. This is our government. But while we know that power is in the minds of the people we should not abuse that power just to force the government to collapse. That would just mean that someone else would come into power."

Hazare claims he has no political ambitions. He holds no title, he says, and seeks none. Over two days of interviews in Ralegan Siddhi, it became clear that he commands so much local respect that any title would be superfluous.

Presented by

Jon Sawyer & Kem Knapp Sawyer

Jon Sawyer is executive director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Kem Knapp Sawyer is the author of biographies for young readers, most recently Mohandas Gandhi: Champion of Freedom.

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