Anna’s unfinished agenda
How will history judge Anna Hazare? As a person who started the process of bringing down corruption? Or as a leader who breathed new hope and fire into rebuilding India? By backing his demands a month ago with the ultimate pledge, his life, Mr Hazare moved the nation. Parliament rose, people sang, youth marched and the mood even in urban “can’t care less” localities was one of a rare moral triumph. He blew the first bugle of the second freedom struggle. The Ramlila Maidan standoff and a stronger Lokpal Bill seem to favour Mr Hazare’s legacy as a person who can stop the Ravan of corruption.
But the true call of a second freedom struggle has to be more positive. Freedoms are won in a democracy by building, not just by bringing down. Mr Hazare’s life shows this building bias in his village Ralegaon Siddhi, where he worked tirelessly for over two decades. That experience created by an ex-subedar of the Army has given the country a village development model that has been emulated by other builders. From Panchayat leader R. Elango near Chennai, to Joe Madiath of Gram Vikas in far-off Orissa, many take inspiration from his work, and they in turn inspire young nation builders. This message is more difficult, it is more long-term, but that is precisely why it is
the unfinished agenda that Mr Hazare should now turn his attention to.
When our nation was born in 1947, our founding fathers were exercised about a key question that the world was asking: Will India maintain its territorial integrity? As a new-born democracy, wrested from a colonial power, pockmarked by princely states, could India remain intact?
Mahatma Gandhi was of the view that thousands of villages that comprised more than 80 per cent of the new-born Indian republic would form the basis of local governance, innovation and creation.
Unfortunately, Gandhi’s early demise put paid to this argument. Our founding fathers initiated the compromise India needed at that time — to keep the nation intact, government had to rule over citizens and it would do this through central planning. Maintaining the political integrity of our nation and at the same time involving citizens in development was declared difficult.
Nearing 65 years of Independence, as the first generation retires, a new generation of young citizens is taking to the battlefield through other means. The iron framework of the government, designed in the days of the Raj to keep citizens in check, is being scrutinised, both for integrity and performance. Mobile phones, SMS, Twitter and Facebook are the new weaponry in this encounter. TV cameras project this theatre of confrontation to billions of others. The question of integrity and character, long festering among our citizens, gets ignited by candle marches.
However, in this drum roll of a new battle, we have to remind ourselves that Mr Hazare’s life has been to “build” as much as to “bring down”. For the second freedom struggle to be successful, young India has to connect with that more fundamental human urge — to build. This was in evidence in 1997, when I visited Ralegaon Siddhi with 200 young Indians. We were travelling the country to meet change-makers as part of the 50th anniversary of India’s Independence, and this was our penultimate stop. Mr Hazare had transformed this sleepy, alcohol-prone and largely destitute village into a model of prosperity.
He was determined to pay the debt he owed the Almighty, for having spared his life when his Army battalion was wiped out. During the short time we spent with him, we got a glimpse of his formidable staying power. Mr Hazare rose at 5 am and worked till late at night, meeting people, solving problems, mentoring enthusiasts and building a new village development model by enlisting enterprising young Indians — all with that quiet dignity, underpinned by deep resolve, that has been on show across the nation.
Only if we give such a purpose-driven message to our young citizens will the true task of the second freedom struggle be accomplished. This is not just about turfing out corruption, it is also about building stronger institutions, effecting development in every district, getting citizens to take part in that development, asking citizens to be involved in the process of nation building through enterprise.
This our founding fathers left for later, left it for us, you and me. Citizen-led development has to focus on the smaller towns and villages of India where the eight per cent growth economy has failed to penetrate. Here, too, modern tools of technology like mobile phones and SMSes can be used gainfully — for an end that is purposeful, long-term and constructive.
The same tools that can get a government to bring in legislation can be used to solve the numerous problems India faces in its hinterland, particularly if these solutions are decentralised and people-driven.
This agenda of enterprise-led development, or udyam janit vikas, has the power to unleash the creative and “building” spirit of young India. It can provide the necessary sense of purpose to millions of young Indians who will enter the workforce over the coming two decades. It will convert them from job seekers into job creators, particularly in the smaller towns and villages of the country where unemployment and underemployment is endemic. The candle lights will then search for integrity while lighting the fires of hope, purpose and long-term development. If we light that fire, we will be able to build a country of substance.
Mr Hazare message of integrity has a complementary message of lifelong service to rural development and enterprise. In 1997, during the first yatra in Ralegaon Siddhi, Mr Hazare had echoed the call of the soil he so dearly loved. He said, “One grain has to bury itself alive to give birth to a field of crops. By burying itself, the grain does not die. India today needs people like that grain.”
This is Mr Hazare’s true message to those young Indians touched by his spirit. These young citizens will be like seeds scattered across India, giving birth to our second republic. Only then will Mr Hazare’s real agenda be complete.
The writer is the non-executive chairman of Jagriti Sewa Sansthan.