Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare’s trip to the United States and participation in the India Independence Day Parade, was “to meet NRIs and connect with like-minded people in the United States and get their support wake them up — for the next anti-corruption agitation in India.” In an exclusive interview withrediff.com’s Aziz Haniffa on August 21, in Glenn Dale, Maryland, at the home of Indian American community activist Om Sharma, who hosted a dinner reception in honour of Hazare, the 76-year-old social activist declared that an integral part of his visit to the US was “to have an international platform” for his anti-corruption message…
There was no indication of the ‘Hazare phenomenon’ fizzling out among Indian Americans, several of whom had gate-crashed the dinner reception…
This correspondent posed the questions to Hazare in English and he replied in Hindi. His replies were then translated into English by Sachin Narode, a medical researcher at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who is his chief handler in the US.
‘There is enough enthusiasm for another anti-corruption campaign’
Hazare denied that the initial energy and enthusiasm his anti-corruption drive had elicited and the critical mass the campaign was able to muster had dissipated. He predicted that if the Government doesn’t enact the Jan Lokpal Bill in the monsoon session which, he admitted, was an unlikely option he would start his agitation again. “There is enough enthusiasm among the people for another campaign like the last one,” he said. “People this time will come in larger crowds much more than before,” he said, and added, “I am working hard for over six months and I totally know that the Government cheated and deceived me. The movement is gaining more strength; we will start our agitation in the next winter session if the Government doesn’t agree to enact our Bill.”
Asked if there was any hope that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Government led by him would eradicate corruption — as he had pledged to do — or if it is so embedded and entrenched that this Government had to go, Hazare said it doesn’t matter which Government is in power. “Changes don’t come simply by changing a Government and having a different Government,” he said.
“We have to wake up the people and the masses and bring the right kind of leaders with a moral character who will change the system not the Government,” he said. Hazare reiterated, “The Government doesn’t matter and I don’t like to play the game of party politics I don’t support that. One (Government) will go and another will come but not much change of system can be brought about by this.”
‘Everybody has to fight corruption’
When asked if he expected any change for the better if a Government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party were to come to power under the leadership of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, Hazare was diplomatic and even circumspect.
“There will be no change as far as corruption is concerned unless there is leadership with moral character,” he said. He continued to argue, “It doesn’t matter which party is in power or who is the Prime Minister,” whether it is Modi or anyone else. “That will not affect change — change will have to come from within,” he said. “I believe people should change and political parties will not bring that change. I have total faith in the Constitution,” Hazare said, and noted that under the Constitution “a party or parties don’t even exist.” Hazare said, “I am trying to change people and the masses to do better governance and to bring in the right moral character and right leader, not with the party but with individual support.”
“So, it doesn’t matter which party is in power and who is the Prime Minister. I believe candidates have to be on their own and not attached to any party,” he said. Asked why Indian Americans or the Indian Diaspora should care or support the anti-corruption campaign he is waging because Indian Americans owe their fidelity to the US, Hazare shot back, “Aren’t all of their relatives in India — their birth country? Everybody is suffering there — would you like that people in Indiashould suffer?”
He argued that “corruption is not a country issue,” it was not exclusive to a particular country. “It is universal — it is a global problem. If you are thinking you are not touched by it, it is unfortunate. You are touched by it,” he said. Hazare declared, “It’s a world issue and so you can’t term it as an Indian American or American or Indian (issue)….They all have to care. Everybody has to step up, roll up their sleeves and fight this.” Earlier, Hazare, who arrived from Philadelphiain a limousine replete with a security detail and bodyguard, was mobbed by several hundred guests. They had traveled from all across Maryland, Virginia and the DC area, and were jostling to touch and kiss his feet and take photographs with him.
There was no indication of the ‘Hazare phenomenon’ fizzling out among Indian Americans, several of whom had gate-crashed the dinner reception, since Sharma had only invited a few “elite guests, to meet, greet, listen, speak and have an interaction with Anna Hazareji.”At several points, the jostling for pictures got so bad that when Hazare’s security detail and his aide Bishambar Chaudhary tried to push back some of the guests, it almost ended in fisticuffs. The host had to implore the angry guests not to engage in anything untoward.
‘I am married to the people of India’
Hazare, in his remarks to the guests, was gracious and profusely thanked them for coming (because apparently it was a fund-raiser too to underwrite parts of hisUS visit). He spoke of how, at the age of 26, he had decided not to get married and had devoted his life to nation-building. “I started this struggle for nation-building, to end corruption,” he said. “I am married to all the people of India. I have adopted all of India and all of India is my family and I feel very happy about it,” he said. “If I would have married, I would not have been a social worker and activist. But now I am fighting everyday because I cannot tolerate the poverty and the corruption and life being so difficult for the common man. I have dedicated my life for all these people,” he said.
Hazare said, “I am not going to die and I am going to keep fighting every day of my life till the Lokpal Bill is passed.’ He said, “I live in a temple — in a very small place,” adding, “I have no blood pressure problems, no diabetes”. To much laughter from the audience, Hazare observed that the rich and mighty in India, with all of their ailments and diseases, must be very envious of him. Hazare said he had been the recipient of the Padma Bhushan and several awards from across the world. He had invested the lakhs of rupees he had received with these awards. With the accruing interest on these investments, he was helping the poor and the underprivileged to get an education, provide for their health and get married.
“I get Rs 6,000 as pension but I don’t know what to do with it,” he said to peals of laughter. Hazare kept reiterating that he had been ‘deceived’ by the Government led by Dr Singh. He pointed out that during his first hunger strike, Dr Singh had written to him, promising to table the anti-corruption Bill and push for its enactment, which had not been done. He said he had received another letter from the PM, assuring him that the Bill would see action in this session, but that seemed to be unlikely.
“I am going to do another fast at the Ramlila Ground because I want to see the Bill passed in the winter session,” he said. Hazare said he had been preparing for his campaign for months. He had logged over 28,000 kilometers across the country. The campaign, when it begins again, would be spread across the length and breadth of India. He asserted, “Those who are not corrupt, have the right to reject, the right to recall,” those in Government who are not taking action against corrupt and entrenched elements.
Red Carpet Welcome For Anna
Indian-Americans in Boston prepared to throw a red-carpet welcome to anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare during his two-week visit to the United States, a kind of welcome, which has not been seen for a non-politician from India in recent times.
During his stay in the US, Hazare was scheduled to criss-cross the country after leading India’s Independence Day parade in New York, attended by thousands of people, ring the bell at NASDAQ and have dinner with the South Carolina Governor Indian American Nikki Haley. Hazare, 76, was also scheduled to visit the United Nations headquarters in New York, meet lawmakers at the Capitol Hill– though this could not take place because of lawmakers summer break; besides interacting with students and academicians in San Francisco, Maryland, the University of Pennsylvania in Wharton and the Columbia University.
Not only Indian Americans were expected to see and listen for the first time this anti-corruption Indian crusader and listen to him, but mainstream Americans were also eager to hear his views on corruption. The American media too made a beeline for an interview.
Hazare is visiting the US at the invitation of the Federation of Indian Associations, which organises the annual India Day Parade in New York, a landmark annual event of the New York City. He was scheduled lead the parade on August 18, which among others was attended by top American politicians, New York Mayor, lawmakers and who’s who of the Indian American community in the US.
The annual event is normally led by a Bollywood super star and for the first time in a several years a non-politician and non-film star has been invited to lead the parade. Hazare was expected to travel to Wharton for meetings at Knowledge at Wharton of the University of Pennsylvania. The next day, he was scheduled to spend the day in Washington for meetings with US lawmakers (this didn’t quite come off because of the summer break).
Ahead of his visit to the Capitol Hill, Indian Americans from across the country called their respective lawmakers to meet the anti-corruption crusader from India. In San Francisco, he was expected to hold meetings with the TiE, and interact with students of Stanford, besides meeting with the Indian Americans in Los Angeles. He was scheduled to return home onAugust 28.