PUNE: He calls himself a fakir — a man who has no family, no property and no bank balance. He lives in a 10ft x 10ft spartan room attached to the Yadavbaba temple in Ahmednagar's Ralegan Siddhi village, 110km from Pune and wears only khadi.
But when 71-year-old Kisan Baburao Hazare alias Anna starts an agitation, every leader from Mumbai to Delhi sits up and takes notice. Even his detractors and politicians who hate his guts, grudgingly accept he is the only person who has the power to mobilize common people across the country and shake up a government. His small frail body has taken several blows from the countless agitations, tours and hunger strikes he has undertaken since he came in public life in 1975.
"I am not scared of death. I have no family to cry over me and if I die while doing something for the country I would be happy. We need to start a second freedom movement to get rid of corruption, red tapism, delays in government offices, frequent transfers of honest officials and lack of transparency," he says. Anna lost his mother Laxmibai in 2002 and has two married sisters — one in Mumbai and another in Sangamner who worry everytime their "stubborn brother starts an indefinite hunger strike".
However Anna has chosen to firmly stay away from any family ties and never visits his sisters. "I do have a home in Ralegan Siddhi but I have never set foot inside it in the last four decades," he once said.
He was born on January 15, 1940 in Bhingar village of Ahmednagar district to a family of an unskilled labourer who owned five acres of cultivable land. Adverse conditions pushed their family into the grip of poverty and in 1952 Hazare moved into his ancestral home in Ralegan Siddhi. He was brought up by a childless aunt who funded his education in Mumbai but financial instability pushed him into selling flowers for a living and he had to quit studies after Class VII.
Soon after, he joined the Army and trained as a truck driver but his days were spent reading books on the philosophy of Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave.
That turned him to social work. Two near-fatal mishaps in the 1965 war with Pakistan changed his outlook towards life and seeking voluntary retirement from the Army, he returned to Ralegan Siddhi in 1975 which was then in the grip of drought, poverty, crimes and alcoholism.
He used his savings for developmental work of the village. "I asked them to take an oath banning liquor, excessive grazing by cattle and felling of trees. Another oath was to have small families with men undergoing vasectomy," he recalled during an interaction.
He motivated villagers into voluntary labour. Canals and bunds were built to hold rainwater which solved the water scarcity problem and also increased irrigation possibilities in the village.
His achievements have won him many awards like the Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra award, the Krishi Bhushana award, the Padma Shree, Padma Bhushan and the Ramon Magsaysay award. Care International of the USA, Transparency International, Seoul (South Korea) also felicitated him.
Anna Hazare: The man who can't be ignored - The Times of India