Published November 30, 2011
We were in Ralegan Siddhi, the small village in Maharashtra state that is the hometown to India anti-corruption leader Anna Hazare, in mid October. On the afternoon we visited he spoke to about 100 supporters and students in the open courtyard of the community center where he has worked and lived since returning from his most recent hunger strike, this August in New Delhi. The protest was the latest milestone in the campaign by Hazare and his associates to pressure India's government into enacting legislation that would create an independent anti-corruption agency with sweeping powers.
The protests that began in early 2011 have made Hazare a household name across India and the focus of intense media scrutiny—as evidenced by the half dozen Indian news-media satellite trucks jamming the narrow road outside the community-center gate.
The audience is half adults, half a visiting group of students, all of them seated on the ground beneath the raised platform from which Hazare speaks. Just to the right is a sculpture of Mohandas Gandhi, India's founding father and the inspiration behind Hazare's work in Ralegan Siddhi over the past three decades. Hazare, 74, has a Gandhian look about him, dressed in white homespun cotton and a white topi cap. He is seated at a table filled with microphones, on two bright-red vinyl chairs that have been stacked together to add a bit of height. He wears horned-rim glasses and a pair of sandals.
He talks for at least half an hour, on subjects that range from high politics—his defiant pledge to continue the anti-corruption campaign until it succeeds, even if it takes 12 years—to a stern warning about students who waste time smoking and drinking. "Have you ever heard that someone was a drinker and became a powerful person?" he asks. "We should think about what we are doing. What should I be doing? Think about it!"