For a man who has "no bankbook", lives "in a temple", and has "a plant and a bed" as his only two personal assets, Anna Hazare may bring about the Indian Summer to bring attention to and perhaps curb the rampant corruption that exists in India today.
NEW DELHI — "In a “new” India often obsessed with wealth and status, where cricket batsmen and Bollywood movie stars are wildly idolized, Anna Hazare is a figure from an earlier, seemingly discarded era. His pointed white cap and simple white cotton clothes evoke a Gandhian simplicity. His rural, homespun demeanor ordinarily might elicit snickers from India’s urban elite.
Yet Mr. Hazare, 74, has emerged as the unlikely face of an impassioned people’s movement in India, a public outpouring that has coalesced around fighting corruption but has also tapped into deeper anxieties in a society buffeted by change.
His arrest on Tuesday, made while he was en route to a park in New Delhi where he intended to commence a hunger strike as part of his anticorruption campaign, drove thousands of people onto city streets across India. Under public pressure, government officials tried to release him within hours, but Mr. Hazare refused to leave jail unless the government released him unconditionally. On Thursday, the two sides reached a compromise, and Mr. Hazare is expected to leave jail on Friday to lead a hunger strike and mass protest in central New Delhi to push his demand that the government create a powerful, independent anticorruption agency.
The popular outpouring he has set off has inevitably drawn comparisons with the democratic uprisings of the Arab Spring. Most analysts agree, though, that India’s moment is a different one. But in its own way it may prove to be no less important.
India already has the democratic freedoms sought by protesters in the Middle East and North Africa and has enjoyed rising global influence after two decades of fast economic growth. Yet India is also experiencing what one observer has called a “churning” period, as public frustrations are boiling over about poor roads, shoddy schools, inflation, rising inequality and the pervasive reach of official corruption.
Running through each of these issues is a deepening public disillusionment with India’s political process and a growing disconnectedness between the governing class and the governed, making the corruption issue especially explosive. As the crowds supporting Mr. Hazare grew larger and more passionate this week, person after person seemed to arrive on the New Delhi streets carrying their own tale of official graft.
“It is the middle class who is worst affected by corruption,” said Asha Bhardaaj, a woman who traveled more than 30 miles from the suburbs to join a rally. “The upper class is not affected. The upper classes can get what they need by paying money.”
Mr. Hazare’s appeal seems partly rooted in the traditional values he embodies. He is a longtime social activist who has campaigned against corruption for nearly two decades in the state of Maharashtra, living off a military pension and financing charitable work through donations. If his clothes evoke Mahatma Gandhi, India’s founding father, then so do his protest tactics of nonviolent hunger strikes and peaceful marches.
Yet Mr. Hazare and his advisers have also proved adept at the necessities of modern politics: they have adroitly outmaneuvered the police and government officials who sought to defuse the anticorruption movement, after the decision to arrest him backfired dramatically. They also have exploited the nonstop, often sensationalistic coverage on India’s television news outlets to build public support for their cause. Mr. Hazare’s face is now visible in almost every corner of India.
Mr. Hazare and his advisers — a group of prominent lawyers and social activists nicknamed Team Anna — have spent months campaigning across the country. His aides distribute a flurry of daily e-mail updates to journalists, and his close advisers have used social media to connect with young followers. Early Thursday, one adviser, Kiran Bedi, used Twitter to announce a breakthrough in negotiations with the authorities.
Later on Thursday, Ms. Bedi released a video of Mr. Hazare made inside Tihar Jail, where he is being held. “I got my energy after seeing the young protesters,” he said. “Today is only the third day of protest. I can continue like this for another 10 or 12 days more.”
The governing Indian National Congress Party, by contrast, has seemed rattled, unprepared for the public anger against the government and incapable of delivering a consistent counterargument. One party spokesman personally attacked Mr. Hazare, describing him as a corrupted figure, while another spokesman blamed the United States for supporting the anticorruption movement.
“This is a moral moment,” said Jayaprakash Narayan, a social activist in the city of Hyderabad. “Everybody is sick and tired of corruption. And in dealing with this, the government has shown no political sense at all. There is a lot of anger in the country, not only to end corruption but to end politics as it is conducted today.”
Mr. Hazare was born Kisan Baburao Hazare in 1937 in rural Maharashtra. He still speaks Marathi as his primary language and eventually assumed the name Anna. Beyond his admiration of Gandhi, Mr. Hazare drew inspiration from Swami Vivekananda, a prominent reformer during the 19th century. Having stumbled across the teachings of Vivekananda while serving in the Indian Army, Mr. Hazare decided to dedicate his life to public service after narrowly escaping death while posted on the Pakistan border, according to his official biography.
He served 15 years in the military, qualifying for a pension, and retired to Maharashtra to take up social work. He was awarded two of India’s highest civilian awards for his work, which includes drought-relief efforts and working to create a sustainable Gandhian “model village.”
By the 1990s, Mr. Hazare had begun staging hunger strikes in Maharashtra to pressure state officials linked to corruption. Several were ultimately removed from office. At one point, countercharges against him claimed that money from one of his trusts had been used to pay for his birthday celebration. A government-appointed commission concluded that the money was improperly spent, but Mr. Hazare was never implicated in any personal corruption.
His national profile has risen sharply since this spring, when he came to New Delhi to begin a hunger strike demanding that the government introduce a bill in Parliament to create the anticorruption agency, known as a Lokpal. When thousands of people unexpectedly came out in support, government officials invited Team Anna to join a special committee drafting the Lokpal bill.
For several weeks during the early summer, Mr. Hazare was a periodic visitor at a government guesthouse in New Delhi while attending committee meetings. During an interview in early June, he often spoke with dramatic flourish about the need to eliminate corruption, while also predicting that people would support him again, if necessary.
“I’m confident that people will stand up again,” he said. He had been traveling the country, appearing at rallies to gather support for a Lokpal. “Yes, I feel empowered,” he said in June. “It happens because a large number of people are standing with you. Otherwise, what do I have? I’m a beggar. I live in a temple. I do not have a bankbook. I have only a plant and a bed.”
His methods and goals have not impressed everyone. Critics accused him of trying to hijack the democratic process through protest pressure tactics. Others warned that the type of Lokpal he envisioned could upset the balance of the country’s democratic institutions and accused his group of refusing to compromise.
Ultimately, negotiations broke down in June on the Lokpal legislation. The government has since introduced a bill in Parliament during the current session, but Mr. Hazare has criticized it as too weak. This week, he came to New Delhi to begin another hunger strike when the police arrested him.
Under the compromise reached for his release, Mr. Hazare agreed to limit his hunger strike to 15 days, and the police said they would remove their original restrictions on the number of supporters allowed to attend the protest.
Outside Tihar Jail and elsewhere in the city, people have chanted Mr. Hazare’ s name and voiced anger over the pervasiveness of corruption in daily life. One college student complained that rich families are able to buy admission for their children to top colleges. A man who has a trucking business complained that he had to pay a 10 percent bribe to a petty official in order to get a certificate proving he paid a transport tax on his vehicle.
“Today, when we were coming, a traffic cop stopped our vehicle and suggested that we shell out some money,” said Ajab Singh Gujar, the owner of the trucking business. “I shouted, ‘Victory to Anna Hazare!’
“The cop immediately allowed us to pass through without any bribe.”