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How the Anna Hazare movement was born

Last updated on: April 22, 2011 17:37 IST

Image: Kiran Bedi with Anna Hazare. (Inset) Devinder Sharma
Sheela Bhatt

The India Against Corruption website gives the names of 20 leaders from different fields who started the campaign that has culminated in a joint committee to draft the Lokpal bill, which for the first time has members of the civil society along with elected representatives.

It claims that they "have all come together to force/request/persuade/pressurise the government to enact the Jan Lokpal Bill." It has social activist Anna Hazare, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravishankar, founder of Art of Living, Mahmood Madani, general secretary of Jamait Ulema-e-Hind and New Delhi-based Archbishop Vincent M Concessao. Along with dancers like Mallika Sarabhai and retired Jusitce D S Tewatia, there are RTI activists Arvind Kejriwal and S C Agrawal.

In a conversation with's Sheela Bhatt, Devinder Sharma, distinguished food security expert who has been with the IAC since its inception, gives excusive insights into the making of the Jantar Mantar hunger strike and the people's outbursts that followed.

Read on to understand the Anna Hazare movement...

'All of us in India are grappling with corruption'

Image: Baba Ramdev and Swami Agnivesh with Anna Hazare

Why did you join India Against Corruption?

To be honest, I was invited to join it by Arvind Kejriwal. I must admire his initiative. He was very angry when the Commonwealth Games scams got exposed around September-October 2010.

His spontaneous reaction was, why can't we as public do anything? Kejriwal put together a team of people that included Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh and Anna Hazare along with a few others. When Arvind requested Kiran Bedi, she agreed and suggested Baba Ramdev's name. So, we called up Ramdev. Like that, the movement grew.

Arvind got people who were respected in their own spheres. What was common to all of us was that we were fighting corruption at different levels. All of us in India are grappling with everyday corruption. But, the corruption is not always in the form of give and take of money. Nobody is talking about corruption at the policy-making level.

When this United Progressive Alliance government says they want FDI in retail trade and they want to allow Wal-Mart in retail trade, the decision is driven by corruption.

'Government has no business pushing a company's agenda'

Image: The proposed site of the Jaitapur nuclear plant in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

This government has no business to push a company's agenda on us without looking at our own interests.

This government is simply going ahead because the president of America, the prime minister of Britain and the president of France have been promised certain things when they visited India. These things are not done.

Look at the Jaitapur nuclear power plant. During a presidential visit how can you promise something that requires the people's consent ahead of it?

Look at the Planning Commission. Scandalous things are happening over there and nobody talks about it. So many farmers are committing suicide in India because of callousness at many levels, including due to lack of leadership of the scientific community.

One vegetable vendor committed suicide in Tunisia and the entire Arab world was in turmoil. And, look at us!

'Scientific thinking in India is corrupt'

Image: A farmer shows his dry patch of land

Some 2.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide but nobody is raising even an eyebrow.

Is it not a reflection of the lack of compassion or indifference we have for fellow humans and human rights? Why are we not pointing a finger at Indian scientists at all? When there is a good bumper crop, the agriculture minister takes credit. When farmers die he says it's not his responsibility. Then whose responsibility is it?

The Indian Council for Agricultural Research got Padma Shris and Padma Bhushans when the Green Revolution happened.

When farmers are dying the ICAR has not held one national level seminar on farmer suicides.

Every other day they have conferences on genetic engineering to bio-safety, but not one on farmers. That clearly shows that scientific thinking in India is corrupt.

'The movement was driven by Kejriwal's zeal'

Image: A file photograph of Arvind Kejriwal

What do you do for this movement?

Let me be honest. The movement was driven by Kejriwal's zeal. Hats off to him! It's not easy to spend so much of time to put everything together. 

Remember, the first thing the IAC did was to draft a public first information report against the misdeeds of the Commonwealth Games. That was given to the Jantar Mantar police station when Baba Ramdev's followers had joined in. But the police refused to even register the FIR.

Then, we were thinking of going to court. But, by then, bigger scandals came to limelight like in the 2G spectrum allotment. Our focus then shifted to the bigger picture.

All of us do regularly meet. Our organisation is formally known as India Against Corruption. When we got together we never thought it will become such a big movement. 

You can't think something as big will happen just because 10-20 people came together. We just called ourselves! That's where we put up all information that we had. It was an awareness programme.

'Let NDA come to power; we would know what Ramdev's real self is'

Image: A file photo of Baba Ramdev addressing a press conference

Baba Ramdev wants to launch a political party. Mallika Sarabhai has a clear political stand. All of you must be having a political stance too. So, what's the political stance of IAC?

Yes, it's an interesting question. All of us may have some political thinking behind us. But, when we started, we saw to it that we select people whose public image is not "spoiled" or "sullied."

Generally, these names are accepted. I am not talking about myself. Lots of people think Baba Ramdev is a saffron leader. I know Baba Ramdev well. But, he has never told me which political line I should follow. Since he is a sanyasi he wears saffron clothes, that's all!  

Come on, he is targeting the Congress all the time.

The ruling bloc is the UPA. So they will definitely be targeted. If and when the National Democratic Alliance comes to power we would know what his real self is. We also have Maulana Madni and the archbishop of New Delhi in our team. They are highly respected, too.

'Corruption is an issue that cuts across everything'

Image: The India Against Corruption's rally at Ramleela maidan last year

How did the Jantar Mantar event come about?

Last year, when we went to file an FIR against corruption in the CWG, Anna Hazare was on the stage along with Baba Ramdev.

He touched the feet of Baba Ramdev and said, "I have been fighting this battle for long, now, you being there I can realise my dream." Nobody noticed it then. Subsequently we had a huge rally in Ramleela maidan and other cities, also.

Corruption is an issue that cuts across religion, politics, caste, class, everything. Thousands of people came to the rally.

The issue of going on a fast came up in February this year when we were discussing among ourselves how to take the movement forward. It was Anna Hazare's idea.

'The date of hunger strike was tactically kept for April 5'

Image: Anna Hazare on his hunger strike earlier in April

Anna Hazare has been going on fasts, as we know. He said he would like to undertake a fast to pursue the Lokpal bill. Believe me; we spent lots of time persuading him not to go on a fast. We didn't want to lose him. He said he wanted to go on a fast because that's what will galvanise the nation against corruption if at all it can.

After lots of persuasion, we understood the nuances of what he wanted to say.

Then, we accepted and decided to stand by him as a group. He gave the date of April 1 or 2 but since the cricket World Cup was on we thought on April 2 people will be glued to the TV sets. We didn't want to divert attention.

The date of hunger strike was tactically kept for April 5. The rest is history.

Don't miss the next part of Devender Sharma's riveting interview on Anna Hazare's movement against corruption