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Project November 27, 2011

India's Anna Hazare: A Gandhian for Today?


Anna Hazare speaks with supporters in Ralegan Siddhi in India.
Anti-corruption leader Anna Hazare speaks with supporters in Ralegan Siddhi, his hometown in western India. Image by Jon Sawyer. India, 2011.

Discontent with financial and political elites is a global phenomenon, from the streets of lower Manhattan across Europe to the roiling capitals of North Africa and the Middle East. India is no exception, with an anti-corruption campaign in 2011 that has stirred millions and unnerved the ruling Congress Party.

What's different about India is the sharp focus of the movement on a specific goal—creation of an independent anti-corruption body with sweeping powers—and the movement's identification with a single leader. The individual is Anna Hazare, a 74-year-old retired soldier-farmer with a seventh-grade education. His strategy? Reliance on hunger strikes, civil disobedience and the mass mobilization of non-violent street protests.

Those were hallmarks of Mahatma Gandhi, India's founding father and an inspiration for idealists across the world. Hazare is Gandhian in another way too—his insistence that India's route to a successful future lies not through industrialization or globalization but instead through reinvigoration of its village life and a reaffirmation of Gandhian principles of self-discipline and non-violent activism.

This project looks at how Hazare has applied those principles over the past three decades in his hometown of Ralegan Siddhi in western Maharashtra state, from the successful introduction of irrigation and sanitation to dramatic improvements in education. At a time when Indian politicians, journalists and historians are struggling to assess the impact of Hazare's movement, this project presents Hazare's own views and those of the friends and neighbors who know him best.