The deceptive faces of Anna Hazare and why Maharashtra stopped taking him seriously

Anna Hazare is not what the world believed him to be. The sooner those he fooled realise that, the better for his village, Maharashtra, India and the world at large, writes Sujata Anandan

The deceptive faces of Anna Hazare and why Maharashtra stopped taking him seriously

Sujata Anandan

I was rather looking forward to see Anna Hazare sitting on an indefinite fast against sale of wine from supermarkets in Maharashtra. But then he withdrew the threat at the last minute – true to form as with every proposed fast. Barring the Ramlila Maidan one, wherein he was commandeered by the BJP to stay put till they thought he had served their purpose.

Ah, serving the BJP purpose. Anna Hazare has been doing that all his life and lending himself to political rivalries even within the BJP. Some years ago, when Gopinath Munde was deputy chief minister in Maharashtra, Hazare said he had a “bomb” to explode. As the entire media rushed to his press conference, he came up with a damp squib – that Munde had allotted a flat to a tamasha artiste in Pune. That piece of paper was provided to Hazare by a former bureaucrat close to Munde’s rivals in the BJP and while the allotment per se was legal and above board – for the Maharashtra government has a scheme whereby artistes can benefit from subsidised flat allotments – what the ‘bomb’ was designed to expose was Munde’s alleged illicit relationship with the dancer.

It was hardly a ‘bomb’ because everyone knew of this relationship and all Hazare ended up doing was hurt Munde’s wife and three school-going daughters. Munde’s rivals had intended to bring that relationship into the open to embarrass him and Hazare did not realise why or how he was being manipulated.

I had met a retired bureaucrat who had earlier been a part of Anna Hazare’s team but had moved away. He minced no words in telling me that Hazare lacked basic intelligence and could never discern nuances. “What do you expect from a driver in the Indian army?” he had asked contemptuously. “If he had been more capable, he would at least have ended up as a subedar or a havildar; instead, he was given the task of driving jeeps and even here, in the hour of need, he abandoned his fellow soldiers to enemy fire and decamped. To now say that God saved him to dedicate his life to the people of his village is just dissembling.”

The bureaucrat was deeply disappointed to have discovered that Hazare was not beyond corruption and embezzlement. He had taken two lakh rupees in the late 1980s from his Hind Swaraj Trust to celebrate his birthday in his village – at a time when celebrating a birthday in a high-rise in Mumbai did not cost as much! He admitted to the fraud in court when then minister in Maharashtra, Sureshdada Jain, presented documents in defence of his allegation that Hazare himself was corrupt. But because of his faux Gandhian aura, he was let off with just a rap on his knuckles.

This was the man then, who was described as the second Gandhi and made it to the covers of not just Indian magazines but also international lists of the most influential people in the world.


He could not influence even the villagers of Ralegaon-Siddhi which he had made into his karmabhoomi. The world thought he had done a lot for water shed development but the villagers knew it was not him but the Collector at the time who executed the scheme– Hazare, as was his wont, only fronted for the government which needed a credible face for the programme to overcome any oppo-sition to new methods and systems.

No wonder former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh, who invited Hazare to his state to develop a similar water conser-vation programme, was deeply disappointed and in later years not taken in by Hazare’s posturing at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi.

The villagers back home gave Anna Hazare scant respect. As his reputation grew over the years, he became dictatorial and insisted young boys and girls from the village do not migrate for better opportunities to Pune or Bombay. But the parents wanted a brighter future for their children and conspired to help their children escape the village in the dark of the night. The next morning, they would raise a hue and cry about the disappearance of their children; sometimes an FIR would also be lodged but there would be no heart in it. It did not take long for the local cops to catch on and co-operate with the parents.

Now coming to liquor. Maharashtra is possibly the only place in the world where women have the right to shut down liquor stores, if more than half of them so desire. Instead of taking advantage of this law, Hazare would snoop on young boys drinking liquor, tie them to a tree, on occasion even beat them and so humiliate them that they agreed to stay away from liquor. Parents didn’t like this either, particularly if their children had been drinking occasionally and were not addicts but, once again, they had no choice.

Anna Hazare is no Gandhian and, as the former bureaucrat had confided, he lacked education and refinement. But he has always been a saffron bigot and found it easy to lend himself to Arvind Kejriwal and the RSS. His threat to protest against the sale of wine was also fuelled by former BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Unfortunately for both, BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh has taken a similar step with even hard liquor, making Fadnavis look foolish and hypocritical.

So Hazare too had to withdraw the agitation under the guise of needing time to study a government officer’s letter explaining the policy. What is there to study? It is a straightforward policy decision but I guess Hazare needed an escape route.

Anna Hazare is not what the world believed him to be. The sooner those he fooled realise that, the better for his village, Maharashtra, India and the world at large.

(The writer is Consulting Editor, National Herald, Mumbai. The article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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Published: 18 Feb 2022, 4:00 PM