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When Anna Hazare brought his anti-corruption campaign to New Delhi, attracting tens of thousands to the outdoor meeting grounds where he staged hunger strikes, huge banners displayed the image of a far more famous Indian—Mohandas Gandhi, the strategist-philosopher who mobilized the Indian masses against British rule through a decades-long campaign of hunger strikes, civil disobedience and non-violent protests.

Critics have noted the many differences between the two men: Gandhi the British-trained lawyer and master negotiator, Anna Hazare the former soldier with a seventh-grade education who has spent the past 35 years in the tiny Maharashtra village of Ralegan Siddhi.

But there are important parallels too, not least their shared belief in village values and their single-minded devotion to a cause. "My life is my message" is a statement long associated with Gandhi, the man now revered around the world as "Mahatma" (or "great soul"). One reason Hazare has struck a chord with so many Indians—and with so many beyond—is that people sense that same commitment in him.