The Making of an Authority: Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi

(I am posting a much longer version of my previous article that will also respond to some of the queries and comments. This article is based on my research, field work and interviews in Ralegan Sidhi since 1991.)

This article is focussed mainly on understanding how exactly the rural environmental works in the journey of Anna Hazare and Ralegan Sidhi are articulated within a coherent ideological framework, to acquire their legitimacy and authority, which are fed by, and fed into, some dominant political cultures of the state. Any political theory and practice, built on this framework, can open the possibilities of a strengthening of the conservative and nationalist forces. Certainly, the ideology of a rural organisation or a movement and its appeal is not based on a single plank. In the case of Anna Hazare and his programme, though the developmental and the environmental works form the core of its ideological structures, it includes other issues as well. At times it provides a different scale of activities to its audience, but eventually reinforces its principal ideological framework. Some understanding of the ideological DNA of the green villagers and the fellow environmental travellers also gives us an idea as to what elements of this endeavour and ideology motivate villagers and environmentalists.

The Historical Context of Maharashtra
Anna Hazare and Ralegan Siddhi are not a new addition to the social history of the Maharashtra state. Indeed, the movement has borrowed many features from the historical evolution of the region, and the political culture of the state, with which it negotiates at different levels. There are many factors at play, though three are of prime importance in the context of this paper: (i) nativism and regionalism in Maharashtrian culture and politics (ii) structure and nature of caste and class and (iii) agrarian economy and local environmentalism.
(i) In his pioneering work on Shiv Sena in Mumbai, Dipankar Gupta gives an overview of the nativism in the culture and politics of Maharashtra. He shows how the popularity and mass appeal of Samayukta Maharashtra Samithi (SMS) and Shiv Sena were made possible by relying on certain dominant sentiments among the Maharashtrians, especially regarding the exclusiveness and superiority of their culture and history. The Maratha empire of 18th century became not only a bastion of Hinduism, the Hindu pad padshahi, but was also the last haven for the indigenous population. In the early 20th century, it was initially under the leadership of Gopal Krishna Gokhale and later under Lokmanya Tilak, who revived Ganpati and Shivaji festivals, that the Maharashtrians tried to reassert themselves in the mainstream of India’s national and political life by reemphasizing the high points of Maharashtrian history. The SMS and Shiv Sena systematically tapped these sentiments. Shivaji was especially glorified and became a public God and hero. Religious public festivals, particularly the Ganpati festival, have also supplied a strong input in the creation of Maharashtra’s cultural identity since the 1890s. Ganpati was an ‘overcomer of obstacles’ and thus was a useful symbol for a protest movement. In contemporary India, the event has become a focal point for community and national identities in the making.
(ii) Western India under the Peshwa rule was a religiously hierarchical society. British rule reinforced caste inequalities by adding to the older religious authority of Brahmans a formidable new range of administrative and political powers. The nineteenth century also witnessed strong social movements of the low and middle castes against the upper caste dominance. The present jati pyramid of Maharashtra is composed of Brahmins, elite Marathas claiming Kshatriya ancestry, peasant Marathas (often known as Kunbis), artisan and service jatis, and Dalits such as Mahars. In a majority of the villages, Marathas are the dominant hegemonic caste and class, controlling economic and social orders. Estimates claim the Maratha-Kunbi cluster to be about 50 per cent in rural Maharashtra. They have used the policy processes of pluralist democracy to their maximum advantage.
(iii) It is partially possible to explain Maharashtra’s distinct culture on the basis of cultural ecology. The region witnessed a flowering of its culture when the environment was congenial, and the quality of life deteriorated when conditions were adverse. Other than the plateau like morphology, a significant feature of the state is the rainfall, as variability is high and droughts are common. Land reforms in the state were taken up in two phases – before 1965 and in the early 1970s. However, the implementation process was not only tardy; it revealed many imperfections. Uneven regional development, emergence of a class of rural elites and active social movements of peasants are other characteristics determining the rural polity of the state. Cooperatives, panchayats and educational institutions in villages are dominated by rich Marathas. They act as patrons, extending help in employment, benefits of government programmes and providing few positions in local bodies. Those who receive help feel subservient to them.

In India, various environmental movements, particularly since the 1970s, have been born in this rural environment. Some inspiring and persuasive leaders on the ground have emerged in the process. In Maharashtra, from Phule to Ambedkar and Baba Amte, from the protection of sacred groves in village Gani of Shrivardhan taluk to the building of Baliraja dam in Tandulwadi village of Sangli district, there have been several instances of rural local environmentalism. These historical complexities provide a background for the movement of Anna Hazare.

Ralegan Siddhi and Anna Hazare: A Profile
Ralegan Siddhi and its leader Anna Hazare are widely hailed. According to Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain, Anna Hazare has emerged as one of India’s leading environmental warrior. Another study says that social development towards an ethical and egalitarian society has preceded as well as accompanied development in Ralegan. Anna Hazare has received the Padmashree and Padmabhushan Awards, and others like Krishi Bhushan and Vasantrao Naik Award. Today Ralegan Siddhi village, in the Ahmadnagar district, looks fresh and green in an otherwise hilly, dry and dusty region. Ahmadnagar district, one of the largest in the area, is situated partly in the upper Godavari basin and partly in the Bhima basin. It has a total area of 17,035 square kms, number of 776,787 households and a population of 4,040,642, out of which the rural population is 3,236,945. Climatically, most of the district receives a precarious rainfall of 500-600 cms. Practically it falls within a chronic scarcity zone in which acute shortage of food and odder is a repeated occurrence once in three to eight years.

Ralegan Siddhi has a population of 2317, and 434 households. The total SC and ST population is 171 and 32 respectively. The caste composition of the village, consisting of 310 families, has always been even: except for 46 families of scheduled castes, all others are Marathas. The total geographical area of the village is 982.31 hectare. The distribution of land holdings is uneven. Out of a total agricultural area of 638.94 hectare, only 30 families have more than four hectares, 62 families have between two to four hectares and all the rest have either one or two hectares or no land. However, everyone had been suffering due to a lack of irrigation water and scanty agriculture. There were a few wells, which could irrigate only a few hectares of land.

However, under the leadership of Anna Hazare, the village evolved a different path of watershed development. Villagers constructed storage ponds/reservoirs and nala bunds in a series, along the 30 to 45 meter high hills, surrounding the village. Nala bunds were of different kinds, big and small, open and underground. Between these, extensive plantation was done. Soon the hills and the nearby areas were all covered with bunds, trenches, nalas and plants. In short, 31 nala bunds were done, with a storage capacity estimated at 2,82,182 cubic meters and covering an area of 605 hectares. Four lakh trees have been planted until date.

‘Water should not be seen on the surface, it should be caught hold and kept below’, was the guiding principle, in the words of Anna. Positive results were soon visible. The area of agriculture and yield increased, and the groundwater level, which was 100 feet down, came up to 40-50 feet. The wells and ponds also were filled and now even in a year without rain, the village is not without water. Shramshakti dwara Gramin Vikas (Rural Development through Labour) has been Anna’s slogan in all these years, which is now being appropriated by the state government, to design a rural development programme for the entire state.

We witnessed in the village several efforts woven around the concept of daan, i.e. offering, by the villagers themselves. The school and its attached hostel building came up due to such efforts. The school children had to offer shramdan as part of their daily curriculum. Thakaram Raut, Headmaster of the Vidyalaya, detailed how every morning children did the cleaning up of some portion of the village. Daan also led to a ‘Grain Bank’ in the village.  Mobilising the villagers was an important strategy of Anna Hazare. He encouraged the active participation of people in the planning and decision-making processes of various programmes, so that ‘the village is built through the creative, productive and innovative hard-work of people themselves.’ There were 14 vividh karyakari societies in the village, dealing with forestry, water, co-operative, school, etc. Women ruled the village panchayat, so much so that all nine members of it were women. Santa Bai Maghari, sarpanch of the panchayat spoke about how they were elected unopposed according to the wishes of Anna, as he wanted women to contribute significantly in the village’s development.

The Meaning of Anna Hazare
A middle-aged bachelor clad in khadi, Anna Hazare lives in the village mandir, which he renovated out of his savings, after retiring from the army. ‘God is not in the temple and is realised through work. But the people gather at the temple, to create oneness in their task’, he explains. A person who possesses characteristics of public-spiritedness, honesty, simplicity, and self-sacrifice for the good of the community, and who holds absolute power and command in his village — this is Anna Hazare. His power seems all encompassing and has come through a long and dynamic process of interaction with his village, activists, bureaucracy and government. It is characterised by culture, tradition and religion, and deployment of natural and human resources, including persuasion, coercion, and possibly suppression.

A Belief System
The basis for the authority of Anna comes from a belief system, where the people following him consider it their natural duty to obey, and the exercising person thinks it a natural right to rule. The people justify their belief as rational and absolute, and follow the authority on a stable, durable basis. Ganpat Pidi Aaauti, a former village sarpanch for many years, narrates: ‘Whatever Anna says, we do. The whole village follows his words. Anna’s orders work like the army.’ For another villager, Lakshman Pathare, ‘Annajee is like God. Whatever work he will assign, I will fulfill. Annajee has become my nature, my habit. He is my heart.’
There is an absolute recognition of an authority locally, in several internalised ways. This authority stands on a common ground of moral values, which constitute its ideology. They become the structures of governance, and work as normative regulations, based on a wide consensus. They have a great bearing on the means to be applied and the goals to be achieved. Here they work through a central figure, who strives for social unity. Environmental issues can provide a basis to evolve a common consensus, due to their sheer intensity and appeal in a given situation, and in the process even become hegemonic.

Until 1975, Ralegan was marked by poverty, unemployment, migration, malnutrition, recurring drought and environmental degradation. In this scenario the watershed management programme was intended to be a uniting point that could subside and mix all the contending and conflicting elements into a common will. The Adarsh Gaon Yojana is an attempt ‘to motivate villagers in the selected adarsh (ideal) villages to integrate into their lives the principles of conservation’, remarks Anna.

To forge a common will, an all-pervasive concept of unity becomes a crucial factor for an environmental organisation, which can be created through logic and/or coercion. According to Anna, rural development must become a powerful instrument of national regeneration and for this the village people have to work together with the firm conviction that ‘Our Village Is One Family’. Unity becomes the representative of all interests, substituting all other structures of political institutions. Thus, in most of the villages under the program, for the first time in years the sarpanch of the village has been nominated through consensus. Elections are not welcomed. This is considered a significant step towards removing conflicts within the village and unifying it for development.

History and culture become reference points in the search for a common good. An environmental movement can use the given and accepted cultural symbols of a glorified mythic past to fulfill its needs of the present. They are part of the dominant value system, and can very well fit with the contemporary body politic. Anna declares:
“In olden days, our country had much wealth. We had a great civilisation. Our people were strong. Our villages were the place of mutual love, affinity and closeness. There was a lot of community work. Our mythology gives us a reference of 33 crore Gods…. Now we have lost our national culture, pride and spirit.”
Symbols of the past are referred to functionally:
Great men like Chhatrapati Shivaji could have easily led a luxurious life if he had accepted to be a Sardar of the Mogul kings. But he sacrificed it for the uplift and welfare of the ordinary people.

Force and Punishment
In the process of social transformation, Anna believes, advise, persuasion or counselling do not always work and occasionally force has to be applied. The fear of physical force works. However, it cannot be applied permanently and has to be replaced by a more durable moral force. Anna says that a social worker is like a mother. A mother nurses her child and on his mistakes slaps him. Nobody questions the right of a mother to slap her son/daughter and give punishment to her children. Even the children accept it. Similarly, a social worker cares for the community and selflessly works for their upliftment. Thus, he can occasionally apply force, and the way the community accepts other roles of a social worker, similarly it also takes the punishment.
An environmental authority has to use force to implement its laws, and to hold and strengthen trust in its authority. Force can be applied in many forms, physical and social, and often the simple persistent fear of its application regulates society. Force gives a safe and solid grounding to socially accepted values. Continuous use of force is justified on the ground that it serves a societal goal and a collective will. Its need is also internalised by many people, not only because it is seen as not targeting them, but also because they start believing in its worth. Force becomes an integral part of an environmentally sound and socially harmonious society.

When Anna Hazare started his work in Ralegan, alcoholism was a serious problem among the villagers. There were a number of liquor brewing units in the village. Anna decided to take up the issue, along with the watershed management programme. In a meeting called by him in the village temple, it was resolved to close down the liquor dens and ban the drinking of alcohol in the village. Many brewing units closed down voluntarily after this resolve. It reduced alcoholism, but some villagers continued to drink. Then it was decided that anybody taking liquor would be physically punished. Anna stated that there is a pole in front of the village temple. Many people found to be taking liquor had to be tied up with it and flogged.

It is not only Anna Hazare who proposes flogging and fear as essential parts of a green village; it has its wide audience. A moral authority using force also makes room for a social ethos, where it is put on a high pedestal. It is remarked: ‘Social consciousness against drinking has been raised to such an extent that a drunken person can be brought to the centre of the village and thrashed and no one will object.’ Flogging and fear become a part of everyday life and belief. Not only the authority employing it has the sanction to use it; others legitimise its use. Pathare Bala Sahab Ganpat’s accounts:

“In previous days, there were liquor brewing units in the village. They all are closed now. Annajee gives punishment to those that take liquor. The person is tied to the pole and flogged overnight. The gram sabha has decided to form a group of 25 youth of the village, who can also give this punishment to the drunkards. Only last year, two-three villagers were caught in a drunken state. Annajee and the youth gave them the standard punishment and then handed them over to the police.”

The use of punishment got its expression within the ambit of law and elected representatives. A vice sarpanch of the village, Kailash Pote, says, ‘I was drinking. I was also tied to the pole and flogged two-three times. It is normal. Annajee will try to make you understand once or twice and thereafter, he will beat you badly.’ The need for fear and punishment in the social organisation becomes all-pervasive. Anna states:

“Mere existence of a family planning law does not help; its rigid implementation is warranted. This law should be made applicable to all persons living in India, irrespective of caste or creed and if necessary by force…. We have had the practical experience of need of force while implementing family planning measures in Ralegan Siddhi and hence this conclusion!”

Religion and Religious Symbols
Religion and religious symbols are potent resources for legitimisation of a particular regime and authority. In a so-called environmentally sound ideal village, religion becomes a vehicle for transformation and imposition. Its embodiment in certain places/people legitimizes them. The command-obedience relationship also gets its rationale from the belief that a God or a temple is ‘supreme’ and any decision taken in front of them must be obeyed. An ideal village originates from the temple, the God or their power crystallised in an authority.
Anna Hazare began the village development work along with the rebuilding of the temple, which has been at the centre of his activities. A sense of collective identity had to be achieved and the renovation of a dilapidated temple, out of his savings from the provident fund and gratuity, proved the best way to achieve it. Anna thinks that this gave people an emotional unity, a sense of oneness, of an inner self with God. The village temple slowly turned into a place of village meetings, weddings and other religious ceremonies. A community and family feeling strengthened. In addition, a temple has an atmosphere of purity and sanctity. Decisions taken in a temple are believed to have the sanction of God and people are more likely to follow them.

Anna Hazare uniquely combines many aspects of religion. For him, religion is also ‘spirituality’ and ‘humanity is the core of each religion’. He also propounds that ‘just as we have the concept of God within the four walls of a temple, we have to enlarge this concept to perceive our village and the country as a large temple and the inhabitants therein as almighty Gods. We must worship them as we worship God.’ His God is not only supreme, but also reachable, which can be called, aroused and appropriated for contemporary needs. According to him, Lord Rama set an ideal before every citizen of how to conduct everyday life by his own example. It is possible to reincarnate a familiar, earthy God by a legitimate authority. Anna reiterates, ‘There is need for Lord Shri Krishna to reincarnate and save the country, in the form of united strength of intellectuals of good character active in social work, economic endeavour, religious guidance and politics.’

Rules and Codes
It is not only environmental rules, but also rules governing the entire socio-political life of people that make an authority acceptable. Those who make these rules and those who obey them are legitimate; others illegitimate/illegal. The rules should not only be comprehensive; they should be exercised in the broadest possible way. This is further possible if the rules and their adherence are ensured in an atmosphere of traditional patron-client relations. Anna Hazare is deeply concerned with rules and norms, which according to him, are benchmarks for an activist. He has a definite model for them:

“The daily routine enforced in the army such as getting up early in the morning, the jogging and the physical training thereafter, the cleanliness of body, clothing, living quarters and the neighbourhood etc. led to development of a disciplined life, benefits of which I am availing of even today. The habit of giving due respect and regard to the seniors by age, post, or competence was inculcated in us…This has helped me in conducting the village development work at Ralegan Siddhi according to the rules and regulations decided by us by common consent.”

Others reciprocate this language. Villager H.Y. Mapari, who used to be in the army, says, ‘This village works like an army. As a commandant, Anna orders and we follow.’ Likewise, 43 year old Lakshman Pathare says, ‘I am an army man and my ideology is the same as Annajee. Army’s discipline is the ideal. Obedience is your habit there.’

Five universal rules have evolved out of the developmental experiences in Ralegan. They are nasbandi (restriction of family size), nashabandi (ban on alcohol), charaibandi (ban on free grazing), kurhabandi (ban on tree felling) and shramdan (donation of voluntary labour for community welfare). It is mandatory for the villagers to take oath that they will follow these rules. The path of rural development here depends in a large measure on many other ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. No shop in Ralegan can sell bidis or cigarettes. Film songs and movies are not allowed. Only religious films, like Sant Tuka Ram, Sant Gyaneshwar can be screened. Only religious songs are allowed on loudspeakers at the time of marriages. Says Kailash Pote: ‘Last year a villager, who is a Mahar by caste and a driver by profession, got a dish antenna installed in his house and started watching cable. Anna scolded him severely and he had to apologise.’

Acquiescence is the key word here. People, as an individual and as a collective, give their assent to these rules. They are not always afraid of punishment. The initial persuasion and fear give way to a wilful acceptance. The external manifestation of acceptance is dissolved in internal believing, and the environmental regime in Ralegan thrives on this. It is emphasised in the village that the villagers themselves decided not to sell bidis in their shops; they themselves do not watch films or listen to film songs. However, the language of acquiescence can be highly brahaminical and hegemonic. The narrative of Anna Hazare on the importance of vegetarianism is a case in point. He first contextualises the issue within the Hindu philosophy. After deliberating on how excessive non-vegetarianism has led to human beings shedding their innate peaceful nature and acquiring aggressive and cruel characteristics of animal kingdom, how vegetarian creatures are normally peaceful and lead a harmless life unless provoked, and how our own saints have propagated a vegetarian diet from old times, he goes on to say: “We presented all these considerations to the people of Ralegan Siddhi and they were influenced by this to such an extent that there is no longer anybody who eats meat and all villagers have adopted vegetarian diet.”  Dalits too have been targeted here. Says Anna:

“We used to go to their area sometimes and sat in front of one house. People used to gather there, wondering how this high-caste person has come to their place. This way, a faith relationship came into being. Sometimes we asked from them water to drink and had food together. Based on this relationship, we started telling them the reasons why people kept them at a distance. We said that the society condemns you because your living is dirty, your food habits are dirty, and your thinking is dirty. Therefore, you have to change. With such constant hammering, the Dalits were also made vegetarian.”

Accomplishment has been a hallmark of this environmental movement, which has consolidated the moral authority of Anna. Everyday discourses around economic achievements have strengthened this authority. As villager Mapari Ramdas says, ‘It was difficult to even feed oneself in the previous days. Now those days are over. It is all because of Anna’s grace that we are managing our family well.’ Sakara Bai Ganpat Gajare was a panchayat member for five years. She is satisfied that drinking has stopped, and the village is free from wife beating. The sense of accomplishments thus goes beyond the material and the physical, and provides a basis for a regime.
The real and perceived feeling of continuous accomplishment in Ralegan has two other distinct elements. Firstly, the village system can legitimately claim to make broader and long-term policies, covering not only the physical environment, but also the social, political and cultural life of the village. More important, achievement establishes it own institutions, justifying its own structure of governance. There have been no elections of gram panchayat in the village since the last 24 years. No elections have been held in cooperative societies as well. Anna expresses:

“In the gram sabha, representatives to the panchayat as well as of the societies are nominated. Elections were not allowed here, as they bring party politics and divide the people. Electioneering also destroys the unity in the village.”

Anna Hazare takes every possible opportunity to sharply question electoral and party politics and remarks that power and politics cause corruption. Those who wish to involve themselves in our anti-corruption movement, will have to take pledge not to get involved in party-politics, nor to contest elections. There is no space for formal structures of democracy here. In the village, there is no poster or pamphlet allowed during the state/national elections. No direct election campaigning can take place. Says Machindra Balwant Sendge, a villager, ‘In our village, the offices of political parties, their signboards or flags do not exist. We never allow them to be here.’

Setting Goals
Anna Hazare believes in setting aims and objectives for the individual and the society. For individuals, they can be as hard as ‘dedicating his life entirely to his work’, and ‘ready to face death if necessary’. For the society, they can be as wide as ‘the achievement of an ideal village’ and ‘watershed development’. The environmental objectives become the driving force here, while means, processes, freedom or democracy take a back seat. To use the experiences of Ralegan at a macro level, the Government of Maharashtra launched the Adarsh Gaon Yojana in 1992. The programme, aimed at developing 300 villages in Maharashtra using Ralegan as a model, was spearheaded by Anna. The budget for each selected village was Rs. 50 lakhs. The funds were routed through the Adarsh Gram Office, headed by Anna. The objective of the programme was to demonstrate that an individual, a family, and a village can become self-sufficient, with sustainable use of environment.

Concepts of ‘an ideal village’ and ‘self-reliance and self-sufficiency as stressed by Mahatma Gandhi’ have been frequently used to legitimise certain policies in independent India, including the above. They profess their success on a strict following of certain principles, which are legitimised by personal authority and official sanctions conferred on them. The process of idealising and replicating an environmental model negate the possibility of holding any other version of rural development as truthful and correct. This value system denies the existence of conflict and contradiction, and places ‘natural’ harmony as the ultimate ideal.

Nation and Nation-building
Anna Hazare in the end states:

“I close this story of the village development at Ralegan Siddhi with the fervent request and hope that every village should achieve similar success and build our India into a strong, powerful nation. ”

A colourful poster, carrying the slogan ‘Ideal Village, Ideal Nation’ is displayed in many parts of Ralegan. The idea of a strong nation is firmly entrenched in the consciousness and work of Anna. An environmentally sound rural development is an effective means to make that idea a reality. Nation is a matter of life and death for Anna. The meaning of a nation took specific shape in him at the time of the Indo-China war in 1962 and crystallised during the Indo-Pak war in 1965.

Narratives of war, army and enemy remain the core references in much of the discourse on nation and rural development in Ralegan. This has also something to do with the circumstantial fact that more than 200 people from this village are serving in the Indian army, and most of the families have at least one member employed there. In Ralegan, expressions like ‘national regeneration’, ‘wholesome crop of national glory through comprehensive rural development’ are coupled with others like ‘We have to hold the nation. Otherwise, Pakistan will grab it. That is why we consciously send our sons to the army.’
These thoughts can well merge with the rural development discourse in the village, ‘The way army jawans jointly attack enemies and control them; we can similarly tackle the problems here in the village.’ They continue to maintain their salience in the present by arousing an emotional cord of sacrifice, devotion and determination as an effective response to the nation today.

The concept of morality and subsequent codes/behaviours/practices based on it are important elements in Anna Hazare’s notion of environmental and rural development. An author remarks:

“Anna’s leadership is ‘moral’. Ralegan’s example has shown that moral leadership works with the people even 50 years after the death of Mahatma Gandhi. Sacrifice has always been highly valued in Hindu philosophy.”

There is a strong personal basis to Anna’s concept of morality, which has evolved with his life experiences. This has been often highlighted. However, there is very little emphasis on his concept of morality being and becoming a basis for a strong nation, where morality is defined through a pure cultural environment. Anna’s concern with the moral is couched in his discourse of the nation, ‘Nurturing moral values is essential for nation building.’ The moral preaching of Anna developed as an encompassing tool for influencing the villagers. Slowly it became an integral part of a moral regime, not only to get rid of liquor, smoking or non-vegetarianism, but also to exercise control over the private and the public, the personal and the political.

Anna Hazare’s sense of morality is wide-ranging, spelling out details of everyday social life. At various points he says, ‘People should have good samskar to do service. They should believe in nishkam karmayog’; ‘Differences between the rich and the poor will remain, but the poor should get some share of the prosperity’. For school children there is moral education and practice, comprising physical training, body building, patriotism, obedience, samskars and Hindu culture. Doing surya namaskar and chanting Om is regular for the students. For women, it is stressed that they should certainly look after the household but they must also participate in activities intended to help their community and country. It is stated, ‘Woman is the Universal Mother, The Great Mother. Many such Great Mothers have given birth to Great Sons — Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Swami Vivekananda for instance. She is also a symbol of purity, sublime as well as innate strength. She can, if she means it, make a God out of a mortal being and build a model, healthy society.’ Morality here is integrated in such a way that directs the everyday life of a society in a hierarchical moral order.
It is significant that much of the problematisation of morality of children, youth and village is done in the context of influence of western, modern culture. ‘Western lifestyle’, ‘modern development’ and ‘invasion of western culture’ invariably emerge as repeated expressions, signifying the collapse of morality in modern India. Further, the external environment, like the ‘indecent’ cinema posters, TV, or video shows of ‘undesirable’ moral values, ‘lurid’ songs and ‘pornographic’ books on the roadside stalls are viewed as undermining the integrity of people. Alongside runs a parallel anxiety about the integrity and health of India as a nation-state, due to falling moral standards. The unification of these two anxieties under the fold of morality speaks in a voice of well being for the villagers, but is intimately associated with a precise regimen of nation.

In Ralegan, there are a few Mahars, Chamars, Matangs, Nhavi, Bharhadi and Sutars. Barring a few STs besides them, the rest of the villagers are Marathas. Since the beginning of his work, Anna has been particularly emphasising the removal of untouchability and discrimination on caste basis meted out to people, who are popularly referred to as Harijans here. There have been several efforts on his part to do away with the ban on Harijans’ entry into the temple and to allow them to take water from the same well. They are associated with committees, formed to run the village affairs, and take part in several village functions and festivals. Occasionally, they cook or serve food to all the villagers and even perform puja. The village once repaid the bank a loan of Rs. 75,000, taken by Dalit families. In many economic programmes, they have been chosen to be the first beneficiaries. The concept of ‘village as a joint family’, or all inhabitants of the village as ‘almighty God’, has prompted the villagers to pay attention to the problems of Harijans.

However, Dalits have a different perception. Kailash Pote, a landless Chamar, gives a different meaning to village, family and Hindu religion:

“We do not call Ralegan Siddhi a village. We call it a family in which Annajee is the headman and we are the people who provide service to the family. Here Hindus mean Marathas only. We Chamars and Mahars are never called Hindus. How can we claim that everybody is equal here? People who have land or jobs in the military have a different level of development. There is a lot of difference between them and me.”

Lakshman Dondiwa, another Dalit, was injured in police firing in the course of an agitation for electricity in the village many years ago. He still remembers how Anna took care of him like a mother. He and other members of his caste are now free from the clutches of moneylenders and he is a devotee of Anna. However, he goes on to remark: ‘We have food, clothing and house now. But that is all. There is nothing more to it than that. Shoes are for feet and will always be placed there. We will never be able to go ahead beyond this point. The village ethos is like this.’ 25 year old Kailash is landless. He knows driving and has a licence for it, but he survives on wage labour. He utters: ‘I was poor before and am poor now. We were starving in the past and the situation has not changed for me. I cannot even afford the education of my children. I cannot even open my mouth. Whatever is said in this village, it has to be followed.’

There are three houses of Matangs in the village. They are still tied to their traditional occupation of making brooms and ropes. They are also agricultural labourers. They have some forestland, but according to them, it is only giving fodder for cattle. One of them remarks, ‘We get work in the village. However, it is barely enough. We need some support, work or job. Since there is no alternative, we try to be happy.’
Mathura Dharmagadka was a vice sarpanch until last year. During her time, there was an all-women panchayat for five years. She remarks:

“We women learnt how to run the panchayat and since there was no male member, we could speak freely. However, we cannot do anything about the wage difference between male and female labourers in the village. A male labourer gets Rs. 50 a day, whereas it is only Rs. 30 for females.”

Namdeo Arjun Mapari, a poor Maratha, also has a dissenting note. He has two acres of land, but it is mostly rocky and unproductive. He and all his three sons work as agricultural labourers. He comments: ‘We all worked for the development of the village. I did shramdan along with other villagers. Our village and watershed programme are world famous. However, in our land and well, there is no water. We have not benefited from all the water flowing in the village.’
There can be many explanations about the way Dalits are placed in Ralegan. Within the locality and community, they are largely still tied to their traditionally given status and occupation. Simultaneously, possession of land, utilisation of water, labour relations and wages, and other forms of power exist and work against the Dalits. Notion of Dalits being ‘dirty’ still prevail. And the village republic works in such a way that broader values and codes assigned within it are never challenged. Dalits’ own perceptions are clearly formed as much from authoritarian discourse as from their own contesting experiences.

The integration of Dalits into an ideal village has two components in Ralegan. One is to assume that they were always there to perform some duties and necessary services and that their usefulness justifies their existence in the present. Anna expresses:

“It was Mahatma Gandhi’s vision that every village should have one Chamar, one Sunar, one Kumhar and so on. They should all do their work according to their role and occupation, and in this way, a village will be self-dependent. This is what we are practising in Ralegan Siddhi. ”

The other component is hegemonic, designed to get Dalits into a brahaminical fold. It is not only manifested in the way food or dress habits are propagated; it is prevalent in several other forms. It is significant that the Organiser, the mouthpiece of RSS, carried a series of articles on Anna Hazare and Ralegan Siddhi, in which the writer expressed his deep admiration for the model being followed. Regarding the incorporation of Dalits by Anna, he remarks:

“Anna-saheb Hajare imprinted on the minds of the villagers that, as children of the same God, any discrimination on the basis of one’s birth would be reprehensible to Him…. To start with, the young workers called a meeting of the Harijans in the village. Together they decided to bury the bitter memories of the past and start a fresh page of social equality and harmony. On their part, the Harijans decided to give up carrying of dead animals, eating their flesh and also vices like ganja, gambling, etc. The meeting was followed by efforts for cleanliness and sanitation in their houses and their neighbourhood and imparting of healthy samskaras to their children.”

Anna Hazare’s concern for Dalits works at many levels. One is the ritual organised for the Dalits, to integrate them into a whole. Here the ritual centrality of the dominant caste is significant. These rituals also come through his totalling discourse on purity and pollution, in which is embraced political and economic power. Here we can also see the importance of practices of gift giving, for the cultural construction of dominance. In Ralegan Siddhi, the position of Dalits is grounded not only in rituals or in a language of integration, but also in the concept of a united family, cemented by the continuous reference to religion, the centrality of the dominant caste, and the authority of an environmental leader.

In spite of the apparent diversities that characterise the various elements that make up Anna Hazare and Ralegan Siddhi, we find that there is an underlying thread of unity in the ideological system of a green village. Authority and its legitimacy is the key to Anna Hazare. Not only is this authority deeply rooted in the dominant socio-political tradition of the region; it is often blind to many basic and universal issues of rights, democracy and justice. There are other obvious limitations. Even when the personal moral authority genuinely motivated, it is difficult to imbibe, evolve and transfer personal moral authority to independent successors and followers, as there is a basic lack of a plural and democratic culture.

The legitimisation of a moral authority is necessarily complex and variegated. This legitimisation at times is also an interactive process between the leader and the villager. Achieved as an outcome of a long journey, it is contingent, dynamic and continuously defined. Its cultivation is also non-ending. However, a command-obedience relationship is the basis of this ideal village, which is seen as legitimate, as it is rooted in shared norms and values, in established rules and codes, in the exercising of power for the promotion of a community’s common good, and in serving for the unity and integrity of the nation and nation-building. The sustainable use of natural resources in the village legitimates the belief of the villagers in the moral right of their leader to issue commands and the corresponding obligation of the people to obey such command. 

81 thoughts on “The Making of an Authority: Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi”

  1. This is a reasonable assessment of Anna Hazare – giving both a view of what he is about and what the shortcomings may be. However, it is still ideologically too slanted. As human beings, we are all moulded by our culture and environment. That Anna Hazare was moulded by his Hindu background is obvious. But I don’t see anything wrong in this. You go to any Islamic country and the discourse will be driven by Islamic values/imagery. In India, Muslims decide on any secular issue with reference to whether the Koran or the Prophet would agree. The same is the case with Christian values – though more muted. I don’t see this as a shortcoming since the attempt is to reinterpret age-old cultural/religious norms and values in the light of modern realities.
    I see the Left’s inability to appreciate Indic culture as appalling. Centuries of colonial mental battering created two kinds of Hindus – those who are hypersensitive to criticism of Hindu/Indic values and who tend to empathise with Hindutva causes and those driven to self-loathing – usually the Leftists/phony secularists who have made it a habit to berate Indic values are terrible and negative. Caste is the stick used to beat any Hindu/Indic idea.
    Can’t we take a middle path where we see Hindu values as a mixture of good and bad? Why is it either good or bad, and not a mixture of both?
    PS: I use Hindu and Indic as interchangeable, civilisational terms, not religious – though that component also exists


    1. But for many of us, ‘hindu values’ are all bad, and especially for those labelled ‘untouchable’. Here is a neutral and scholarly voice on hinduism, that of Toynbee’s, from his 12 volume ‘A Study of History’: “The Lucretian and Voltairean view that Religion in itself is an evil – and perhaps the fundamental evil in human life – might be supported by citing, from the annals of Indic and Hindu history, the sinister influence which Religion has ascertainably and incontestably exercised, in the lives of two civilizations, upon the institution of Caste.”


      1. and how am I supposed to believe that Toynbee is neutral if this all he has to say about a religion that has given rise to the Upanishadik philosophies? Buddhism too bears remarkable semblance of that same spiritual philosophy minus caste but plus an added dose of treating women as detractors of attaining moksha . I said the last point since the women’s sangha was not really Buddha’s wish (it was Ananda’s wish) and women’s sangha was placed below the bhikkhu sangha in hierarchy of sanghas. I abhor the caste system but your statement simply shows your biases and not neutrality. almost nothing in life is without trade off , Hinduism included. the job of a liberal Hindu is to take the good and throw away the bad, and the same goes for everyone else including those who worship Marx as God.


    2. Dear Mr. Jagannathan even before I begin to answer your questions “Can’t we take a middle path where we see Hindu values as a mixture of good and bad? Why is it either good or bad, and not a mixture of both?” i want to know the origin of the word ‘Hindu’? Will you please shed a light on it? Who were the people who gave the word Hindu? Does it appear in any of the sacred texts of Hinduism? Please cite me the reference. I am intrigued.

      Well, let us try to make this discussion less controversial by keeping the religion part of Hinduism altogether away and try to answer your questions in the context of civilization, in which you choose to use the word Hindu. What are the values we are talking about then? Well, as far as i understand the values of Hindu civilization preach that priesthood or knighthood or servitude are dependent on birth, not on merit. Isnt it a restriction on one’s pursuit of happiness if a father who is a sweeper, cant let his son choose some other profession? There is no choice of profession based on merit in these values.

      Let us talk about status of women. The round of Census conducted in 2011 has shown a decline in growth of female population. Reason given is female feticide. Is it something to do with Hindu values? Point to reflect if not refute, isn’t it? Women are sub-servient to males according to these values or else we would not have had Anti-sati or anti-child marriage laws. Girls are burdens because even today they carry away wealth in the form of dowry. Please don’t tell me dowry is eradicated from India or that the status of women has been elevated.

      If you ask me what are Leftist or right-wing and bla bla bla issues, i wont be able to articulate. But if you ask me the answer of your questions, well, i think there is no middle path in here. One has to think in black and white, there is no gray area to settle these problems because these gray areas leave the problems unsolved and increase the magnitude of problems. Why am i taking so much pain to comment on your article? Well there are people like Mr. Hazare out there who are trying to create these gray areas without addressing the real issues there by increasing the magnitude of problems. It is not enough to think about Hinduism in good or bad terms, it is important to see what repercussions does its values have on the socio-economic factors. The repercussions are evident in history in the form of invasions and subjugation by a handful of foreigners. If you think that these values are outcome of ‘centuries of colonial battering’ then i think you should revisit history, because the values have been through and before colonial era.

      Within 70 years of its freedom a country is able to aspire to become global super power, after at least 400 years of subjugation, who do you think the credit goes to? Does it go to likes of Mr. Hazare who have effectively kept the gray areas or to the man who separated religion from the state administration. I would like to end on a note that might be unacceptable to you, but the fact is had there been no Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, we would have been heading for another subjugation. Please try to explore how the man has given world a new super-power. Likes of Mr. Hazare are an impediment to the growth because they create more gray areas.


      1. Your knowledge of history and civilization is certainty as superfluous as your parting comments. The larger strata of Bharatiya society did not utilize any larger narrow religious identity until the arrival of the Islamic invaders who compelled the natives to build the sense of the other – the Hindu.

        Hindu dharma’s unparalleled strength is its belief in humanity – the very word Advaita catering that there is no second. All abrahamic faiths divide the world into two – the faithful and the infidels, and the latter are destined to hell, both in this world and the next. In contrast in Geeta, Krishna confirms in 9.32 all can attain liberation. This promise of liberation from the cycle of eternal recurrence is our dharma’s lasting promise. I have read no scripture which states a sweeper’s son can only be a sweeper. Yes, people tended to follow their familial professions and the place of the Brahmin priest was lucrative and in time became hereditary but again, people had option to follow multiple vocations. The elite in every society usurp the best jobs and perhaps unfortunately we were of no exception. Under the Islamic rule, the Hindu elite who did not compromise with their belief system and some with their daughters were subjected to extreme cruelty by the Islamic invaders.Even then much of the lower strata remained committed to their way of life, proof that segregation by itself did not lead to insight of discrimination. No medieval Muslim chronicle mentions any societal rift within Hindu society which could facilitate conversion – not even Al Beruni.

        It is again only in Hindu philosophy, where women can aspire for the highest liberation. Goddess worship it ample testimony to belief in the power of feminine virtue. Even in 1900, the Hindu sex ratio was close to 1:1, yes, not at par with the Western world but blame it on being a victim of colonialism. Even today, a 95% Hindu community in Orissa has a very health sex ratio. Moreover, dowry is a very modern materialistic institution whose current diabolical avatar has no sanction from either scripture or custom. As for child marriage, ethos and values change over time. A civilization plagued with child marriage and teenage pregnancies apart from wars and disease cannot flourish for over 5000 yrs with such a healthy demography. Even until 1500, life expectancy for women in India was better than their Western counterparts. By 1900, it was almost half of the latter thanks to the advent of modern medicine while Indian institutions collapsed

        For over 300 yrs, the Gurjara Pratiharas repulsed the wave after wave of Muslim invaders. Even the fall of the Hindu kingdoms can be attributed more towards their internal fighting, lack of political cohesion and finally, their technological inferiority. The venture of militant Islam flushed it with much too many resources that it could overwhelm other armies. Also the fundamentalist nature of crusading armies should not be overlooked. Again, even the Muslim mughals were thrashed by Afghanis, Portuguese and later by Marathas. Christian Europe was always fighting a losing battle against the Ottomans before the industrial revolution which gave it a decisive advantage

        Within 40 yrs of freedom, country was left with a begging bowl which compelled it to switch to a capitalist economy. But what global power? Not one technological, scientific, economic, literary or philosophical breakthrough can be attributed to native Indians in these last 70 yrs. Contrast with the plethora of mathematical, scientific, spiritual and philosophical contributions made in our “golden ages.”


      2. Pravin, you’re wrong. If you go back in history, you do see people choosing professions–remember Valmiki who gave us Ramayana was a lower caste? Many kings (Viswamitra an example) chose to be a Brahmin. Surely, the choice got long somewhere along the way–but it was there in ancient times.
        Coming to women, it is in India where we have women like Gargi and Maitreyi in Vedic times. Sure, it got lost again in passage of time. But blaming it on “Hinduism” and therefore painting entire Hindu/Vedic values as black might not do service to your point. Read A. Sen’s “Argumentative Indians” to get some flashbacks from the Vedic perIod, if you want to rather than simply ranting here.


  2. We are trying to measure Anna in the backdrop of a western ideal of a democratic nation state where the church (read religion) and state are separated. If that is the case, there is definitely a flaw in what Anna is practicing. The founding fathers of India in their wisdom have foisted these ideals on us and we have failed them and ourselves miserably. I believe that measured against those ideals, what Anna is doingt flies in the face of what India was supposed to be. That being said, we cannot deny the fact that Anna’s creation is a jewel however flawed that shines among the muck we have made this country into. Can the erstwhile “untouchables” aspire to India’s version of the American dream? Looks like they cannot under the Hazare system. Are people free to exercise choice be it drinking or smoking as they want? Is this “voluntary”? Probably not. Is the village doing better than most other villages in India, unequivocally yes. Maybe, Anna has drawn up a new social contract, one which is unfamiliar to the western leaning intelligentsia steeped in western notions of freedom and equality. Given the realities that India faces, the growing inequalities and the failure of “raj dharma” and our own delusions of grandeur on the global stage, we must definitely examine this system on its own merits, however distasteful it may seem compared to the Utopian western polity. The Chinese are trying a different formula, democracy in the US has been hijacked to a large extent by the rich, so why do we have to follow the old? We have to be practical and we must do justice to those who were unlucky in the ovarian lottery.


    1. Very well said, Mr. Thomas and congratulations! In spite of whatever flaws the critics of Anna Hazare are trying to point out, we cannot deny the fact that a single person with will and determination does matter. What he could achieve for his village, is a glaring example for everyone to see and emulate. Has the Govt. produced any other village in India that can be compared with Ralegan Siddhi in its overall development? The blogger Mukul Sharma has mentioned that Anna uses force and punishment to assert his authority, which is sheer nonsense! Is he still living in the British era? Anna does not exercise his authority but he has developed an environment of awareness which keeps everyone disciplined and organised in the village. The villagers are very conscious about their responsibilties and duties which helped them materialise their dreams under the guidance of Anna Hazare. If the villagers are obedient and responsive to him, it is purely out of affection and faith and not because of any fear since he is one of them and possesses nothing to create any fear except his limitless affection and ever-willingness to help.

      I hope, there will be many more posts in response to thwart the evil efforts of slanted bloggers and support Anna Hazare in his crusade against corruption.


      1. Hahahaha, Mr Gupta, sorry to say but you are missing the point Mr Thomas is trying to drive home, and that too not by an inch but by a mile. To make it clear to you, what mr Mr Thomas is saying is simple that in bringing up the constitution for India, the state was seperated from religion because the religion as a state is restricitve to fundamanetal human rights. What Mr. Hazare is trying to do is reverse the process.

        *Mr. Thomas: Please correct me if I am wrong in representing your words.
        Thank you.


    2. ask maid servants who face a good dose of beatings everyday(frm drunk husbands) whether they would prefer or a liberal with emacipated views. Given the fact that they need to earn bread, look after home family etc etc…I assure you it would be Anna.

      and BTW I live in Maharashtra!


  3. The true figure of “Anna” was well depicted. And now i have got the answer why did he praise Narendar Modi. I just got remembered and want others to also remember what Dr.Ambedkar told about Gandhi and Congress. “Beware of Gandhi”, written in Dr. Ambedkar’s writing and speeches volume 9.


  4. From wikipedia:

    In 1935, the Nazi regime enacted the “Reich Nature Protection Act”. While not a purely Nazi piece of legislation, as parts of its influences pre-dated the Nazi rise to power, it nevertheless reflected Nazi ideology. The concept of the Dauerwald (best translated as the “perpetual forest”) which included concepts such as forest management and protection was promoted and efforts were also made to curb air pollution.

    Griffin has argued that “fascism repeatedly generates images which evoke a specious kinship with a “panenhenistic” communion with nature” (pg.642) as a means of mobilising members of the fascists’ ethnic group to the cause of ultranationalism. He cites the glorification of wilderness in Nazi art and the ruralist novels of fascist supporters Knut Hamsun and Henry Williamson as examples of this.[1] Some have associated French Esoteric Hitlerist and Hindu convert Savitri Devi with ecofascism, due to her support for animal rights and vegetarianism, which she linked to a condemnation of Jewish dietary practices.

    << replace the mobilized ethnic group with "Maratha" and Jewish with "Muslim" dietary practices , Striking similarities huh!!!


  5. Agreed that the incorporation of Dalits into the mainstream has been a little hegemonic and you can probably say that it hasn’t happened on their terms. However this is still a great improvement from most other villages in India. This is probably the Gandhian dream coming true. Agree with Mr. R Jagannathan to a large extent. Are there no muslims in the village? It would have been interesting to see how the society would have worked together then.


    1. That’s exactly what I thought too — how would have the “ideological DNA” mutated then? Probably not very different from how Gandhi handled it.

      Overall, the article lacks depth. The author is too quick to show how he wants us to react.


  6. While Anna Hazare’s activism has some positive aspects, his handling of the village affairs sound completely undemocratic. For instance, his practice of using religion to legitimize methods such as suppression & coercion are utterly regressive. It is worryingly resonant to the village communities existing in pre-British India where the village community and the caste maintained ideological control over the individual who was bound to conform to their standards. The individual scarcely existed except as a member of a group. Even these villages functioned self-sufficiently. In fact, their self-sufficient economy insulated them from all the military, political & religious upheavals which took place so frequently in Indian history. In the present times, Anna also seems to aim at something similar. However, Anna’s loathing of electoral democracy , “western culture” & “modern development” is deeply distressing. These sentiments are pillars of a closed society. How can such a society develop a nationalist outlook? And, without a nationalist outlook, how does one become a citizen of an “ideal nation”?
    Also, this village unwaveringly looks up to Anna for guidance on every significant issue. In future, therefore, in an absence of a suitable successor, such kind of hero-worship will only pave way for disillusionment.


  7. It’s true that there has been *some* amount of good in this village because of Anna’s sustained efforts. There’s no denying that.

    However, anybody who aspires to make a change has to make it in a way that the people who are subject to this change, experience FULL freedom and nothing less. Why should we just “settle” for the fact that some good has come of a few measures implemented by Anna? Banning alcohol is the solution to wife beating? Not education and legal punishment for the wife beater?

    How can one not consider the difference between the wages for men and women? Not only is this wrong, it is illegal. For anyone who will argue about the physical strength, I urge you to please go to these villages and observe how women equally bend their backs and break their bones alongside men. There’s no difference there, the difference is only in the wages that they get. Also, I know it’s a rural setting and everything but education exists to tell the people over there that it is not a “woman’s duty” to mind the household. The man is just as responsible. If we keep using the same argument of “but, but… they’re rural people! They don’t think like you do!”, this imbalance in the nature of duties will never, ever change.

    Why should every child learn the Surya Namaskar? What if I am, by choice, an agnostic person or an atheist? Why should I imbibe the values of somebody else into my life? What should be illegal is anything that hinders another’s life. Not anything that is perceived to be wrong by the hailed head of a village.

    A lot of people will say, “Hey, this is a lot better than what we usually get so let’s settle for this.” That’s the exact attitude that has led to corruption, against which Anna fasted.


    1. Ralegan Siddhi and Anna sound strikingly similiarly to Britain in V for Vendetta. You trade in your freedom of choice for a sense of moral righteousness and security where the majority is right and the apparently morally right actions are not the result of exercising one’s freedom of choice….. and it’s insulting to call his methods Gandhian. Gandhi would never flog a person for consumption of alcohol… Morality is to be understood and chosen, if at all it has to have any value- not imposed.


  8. Examine and compare the contents of this article in connection with wikipedias entry on Fascism.

    First a little intro on fascism:

    Fascists present their ideology as that of an economically trans-class movement that promotes resolving economic class conflict to secure national solidarity.

    For Griffin, fascism is “a genuinely revolutionary, trans-class form of anti-liberal, and in the last analysis, anti-conservative nationalism.

    <<<<"“It was Mahatma Gandhi’s vision that every village should have one Chamar, one Sunar, one Kumhar and so on. They should all do their work according to their role and occupation, and in this way, a village will be self-dependent. This is what we are practising in Ralegan Siddhi. “

    wiki: Fascists favored CORPORATISM defined by wiki as " a system of economic, political, or social organization that views a community as a body based upon organic social solidarity and functional distinction and roles among individuals."

    <<< ‘We have to hold the nation. Otherwise, Pakistan will grab it. That is why we consciously send our sons to the army.’

    wiki: Fascists believe that a nation requires strong leadership, singular collective identity, and the will and ability to commit violence and wage war in order to keep the nation strong.

    <<<“Mere existence of a family planning law does not help; its rigid implementation is warranted. This law should be made applicable to all persons living in India, irrespective of caste or creed and if necessary by force…. We have had the practical experience of need of force while implementing family planning measures in Ralegan Siddhi and hence this conclusion!”

    wiki: That is SOCIAL INTERVENTIONISM common among both Fascist and other forms of authoritarian and totalitarian forms of governments.

    <<<"In Ralegan, expressions like ‘national regeneration’, ‘wholesome crop of national glory through comprehensive rural development’ are coupled with others like ‘We have to hold the nation"

    wiki: Fascists view violence and war as actions that create national regeneration, spirit and vitality.

    <<<"There have been several efforts on his part to do away with the ban on Harijans’ entry into the temple and to allow them to take water from the same well"

    wiki: Stanley Payne notes that fundamental to fascism was the foundation of a purely materialistic "civic religion" that would "displace preceding structures of belief and relegate supernatural religion to a secondary role, or to none at all"
    According to Payne, such "would-be" religious fascists only gain hold where traditional belief is weakened or absent, since fascism seeks to create new non-rationalist myth structures for those who no longer hold a traditional view.


  9. Kafila is uncomfortable with the popularity of Anna Hazare. Because Anna is a Hindu. Johlawallahs comfortable only with Commies, Jehadis and Evangelists.


    1. buddy, read who has written the article. if there is semblance of truth in the name, i feel it is written by a Hindu. you are not much of a reader, isn’t it? otherwise you could not have commented the way you have commented. if you want to criticize a piece of article, learn to read first.


    2. @punch

      Buddy.. try to read the article first and make reasonable commends. Don’t express your frustration with out understanding what is the real subject matter in the article.


  10. Poor old Anna is now made out to be a fascist like hitler. The leaps of logic of jholawallahs are unfathomable to oridinary mortals.


  11. काश कि इस तरह के लेख हिंदी में भी आते…

    महज भाषा के कारण एक बहुत बड़ा वर्ग ऐसे विश्लेषणों से वंचित रह जाता है और जहां का तहां ठहरा रह जाता है…


    1. Arvind, you are very right. If you have the time, sir, please translate this and publish in any local publication/journal which is accessible to people who are more comfortable with Hindi(or even other languages, Marathi being one). If I had the capability, I would do it myself.

      Mukul, thank you for this essay. I wonder if you’d like to take up Arvind’s challenge to translate it?


  12. I think this article needs better documentation given the accusations made against Anna Hazare. There are several quotes from Anna Hazare. Where did they come from? If the words were spoken in an interview, when was the interview carried out (the author will need to provide an date). The information given to the reader at present is that the fieldwork has been going on since 1991 – 20 years is a long time!


  13. No offence meant. You dropped in so much time to all these, when you could have used a bit of 5-min simple thinking like some of the comments here suggest. Hazare is no different from ‘Chairman’ Mao, The Butcher aka Hitler or a petty gang leader. One can subtract the background theories and tackle the man directly. Hazare stands out like a really dangerous man. Super dangerous. I would not want my children growing up under his ‘care’. Any sane person in this age would not want that. India is a vast country, and Hazare is somebody who would trample ‘other’ citizens. He has way more to go learning about respecting people outside his ooh la la village and his own head.


  14. I am a fan of Anna Hazare and I started to read about this village long time back but I had lot of questions in my mind. Now all those questions are answered. Still Anna Hazare uses the age old oppressing Hindu world view to keep the dalits and water is still not flowing in their fields. Where is democracy? Who decides that Dish Tv is not coming into the community? There is no freedom; they are forced to stay and obey and without gainsaying the opportunities created for daily sustenance. But it doesnt sound like Ideal village but more like I Will Deal village.


    1. Don’t you know where is democracy.. what government is providing you is a democracy.
      If you have money democracy is yours.. If you don’t have then this so called democracy turns into dictatorship..
      Do think about it and you people stop screaming about it..


  15. “Baat yoon kahiyey kay jiskay hon sao pahloo
    Ek pahloo to rahey baat badal nay kay liye”

    “Falsafi ko behes mein aksar Khuda milta nahin
    Dor ko suljha raha hai par sira milta nahin.”

    So, are there a few pehloos we can hang on to?

    Any siras?

    “Don’t walk ahead of me because I may not follow.
    Don’t walk behind me because I may not lead.
    Walk beside me, and be my friend.”
    -Albert Camus


  16. dear Shuddha,

    Your argument seem to inadvertently produce a new category called “TV Victims”. This reading may bring in a degree of discomfort to many young men and women who are in broadcast journalism and want to see their profession in highest standard of fairness. But this comparative mode has a problem of succumbing to a self-inflationary valorization of events or statements that you would consider worthy of attention. Doubt, which is so much valued by you could be held in abeyance. This is evident in your report. The discussion on the third day was fairly basic and not much got said or thought. It had the aura of the bad habits of television of working through the artifice of gravitas and eminence, and speakers not making any attempt to build an argument. Just by using words like “corporate capitalism” or “fascism” we do not bring the present into view.

    During the event, the compere of the evening proceedings, an otherwise delightful person, went on to assert that the only worthy money is from wages and sales in the market, rest is contaminated. An almost surrender to the neo-liberal consensus on what is worthy earning. The high of resistance can somehow carry with it all kind of statements and assertions and it will be sad if the commentators miss the cue, as they get busy trying to valorize it in terms of new “victims”.

    I sincerely wish that the small, fragile spaces of discussions does not get swamped by commentaries which eschew doubt.



    1. So Mr Jeebesh, what other sources are valuable except 1. Wages for your work or 2. Money paid to you in a transaction for goods/services you have rendered. What else is a valid source of income? I am confused.


  17. Thanks to the author for the detailed study and article for this forum at such a critical time.

    One thing i would like to discuss is that sort-of fascist movements are actually very powerful in bringing about coordinated social change. In the first phase of Nazi rule from 1933 to 1938, Hitler was able to turn around a demoralised nation hit by various economic and social problems originating in Germany’s defeat in the first World War and compounded by the Great Depression, massive unemployment, astronomical inflation etc. to the situation where he (mistakenly) felt that he could militarily defeat all the countries of the world. Of course, im not trying to swipe under the carpet the antisemitism and various other violent crimes of the Nazis in the first 5 years of Nazi rule but only after the War began did the scale of the atrocities shoot up to what they are infamous for. See for example, The Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary of the 1935 Nuremberg Nazi Convention. It seems impossible to believe the scale of human energy mobilised by the Nazis. And that is the strength of fascist movements – use of every conceivable “handle” whether religion, racism, respect for elders, fear of punishment etc. to mobilise people because mobilised people working together can achieve a lot. And Anna Hazare with some methods of military regimentation among others and a lot of time was able to achieve a mobilised Ralegaon Siddhi.


    1. Hmm. So, what you saying is that Jan Lokpal Bill is just the entry point for a fascist movement to be launched by the militaristic Anna Hazare just as he has “mobilied” Ralegaon Siddhi with his “military regimentation”.

      Wow… Sir, hats off for your imagination.


      1. When did he say anything about Lokpal? In fact when did anyone in the article say anything about Lokpal? The discussion is about the village, and what is happening there


  18. I am terribly disturbed at the methods adopted by Anna Hazare in this village and know that these methods are fundamentally wrong. I do not need to weigh these methods against any benefits that he might bring the anti corruption movement to know that they are wrong. Ultimately there is more than one way to climb a mountain and the same goes for alcoholism or any other problem. I simply cannot understand how an educated “Gandhian” can condone force as and when he sees fit. All very very disturbing.


  19. Life is very complex. As you pass on the road, you can smell, from the best of airs (perfumes) to the worst (foul smells). Or a mixture in varying proportions of the various airs.

    Likewise, a human being, or a leader is also very complex. Some how, as an M, the ban on liquor has an appeal for me. I can easily see so many people remaining sane, and doing better in life. Evils like ‘wife beating’ are correlated to liquor consumption. Don’t ask me for data. Ask, the servant (sorry, domestic help) who cleans your utensils.

    So several other things also, like the greenry and all, he is able to generate in a relatively dry land, is impressive. Also, the fact that some 400 odd people have been to the army from the village. Surely, many of them may return more illuminated than him, and can benefit the Ralegaon Siddhi, or some other place.

    But, as an Indian M, any association, with the right wing (RSS and their types), is quite alarming to me. I can imagine, of landing in the village, and being welcomed with smiles and all – as typically all urban folks encounter in a rural setting. And naturally, at some point, I’ll be asked of my religion (as all ‘dehatis’ are prone to asking). So will their attitude change on knowing I am an ‘M’?

    I fear, that they may have a rather heavy -ve bias towards M, because of the heavy Maratha/Shivaji leanings of Anna’s land (Note: I don’t have any disrespect towards Shivaji. Believe he was a brave King. In general, have the highest of regard, for anybody who stands up infront of a mighty power. But don’t see many M lovers (atleast non-haters) and right wingers, in the same person. Again, don’t ask me for data, I can smell it.)

    But overall, I find the situation optimistic, in Ralegaon Siddhi. Unlike, some commenters, who have taken a pessimistic view of things and think that its a very regressive thing (like the caste-ist model, existing in the British days). I think, that the present macro ecosystem of India, which is by and large, a meritocracy (I know. Have cracked JEE myself. No M bias there). So if by hook or by crook, or anything in between, if kids from the village, are somehow, brought to the level, where they can take part in the meritocracy, we will do fine.

    So basically, if Anna’s model, can result in more educated kids, from that village. It should, all hopefully be, for the better. InshaAllah!

    And Mr. Mukul Sharma, nice article. There is a dearth, of this kind of analysis. Enjoyed reading your article.


  20. Around 1956, I was a student of typical rural school. Suddenly, joined new headmaster. He involved local landlords and used their donations to develop the school. Within weeks of his joining, the school transformed into model school. Students thronged outside headmaster’s office to listen radio – a luxury at that time. Zero tolerance for indiscipline. Students late by 5 minutes were beaten by headmaster himself at the gate. Fruit and candies distributed frequently to students. Loudspeaker used for prayer and announcements. When I began practising during 1971, the same headmaster joined a private model school as principal. He visited my clinic and cheated from me Rs500 for enrolment on school advisory committee. I followed him and explored his past. During 1956, he collected donation for 24 fans and installed only six. That way he developed the school and grabbed funds for himself. What impression would you take from this narration? A school in rotten shape for a decade transformed into model school within weeks. Why the hell should we count the money grabbed in process.
    Perhaps Anna Hazare developed the village same way. Making a model village is a HUGE success story. It would be better, if we don’t try to look at other aspects of development.


  21. I cannot understand why people cannot look at this from a strictly common sense perspective. Why do people have to compare Anna Hazare’s actions with a corrupt headmaster and justify them? Do Indians have no way to weigh Anna Hazare’s actions based on their merits and demerits?

    The worth of an individual depends mostly on how much right and wrong he has done. I understand Anna Hazare has done much good, but does anyone even consider how much he has got wrong? For starters, he has limited the mental, physical and emotional growth of the people in the village. He has restricted change, which is a universal constant and needed for any community or village to survive. He has stifled individualism, creativity and human rights.

    He justifies force because he has limited understanding of problems like alcoholism and wife beating. It is apparent that he doesn’t know that wife beaters are not always drunk or even drink when beating their wives, and most use alcohol as an excuse to justify abusive behaviour. Wife beating is more about asserting physical dominance than anything else (and there is a lot of research that suggests this).

    When I heard in the news channels that he was a Gandhian I thought he adhered to the principles that Gandhi followed, namely experimentation with truth and life. Where is the experimentation in this village or in the villagers?

    As an example of how Anna Hazare’s ideas and thoughts are limited consider this:
    Alcoholism is just one addiction then there is addiction to drugs, prescription drugs and more recently food and sexual addiction. Anna’s miracle cure means all these should be dealt with first warnings and then floggings and all will be right?

    Next consider this model school:
    The headmaster is feared and respected and has made the school into a model school. He beats children but also make sure he stops before he breaks their bones or makes them bleed. He believes sweets and candy can take care of any negative sentiment, even those arising out of beating and no student will ever be harmed psychologically and will ever end up committing suicide. He steals from the fund for fans but makes sure that he only steals from one fund and not all. He is of the opinion that if he steals from the funds for fans it is insignificant because fans are not necessary to get a good education. He is the best headmaster for the model school because he is efficient and is able to create and run the model school. All faults of the headmaster can be overlooked, because he created a successful school and many students end up going to college and working in multinational companies etc. What happens if the students start emulating the headmaster? Who is to blame, the student or the headmaster?

    We are all born free why do we need to compromise on our freedom, human rights and individualism for Anna Hazare, a corrupt headmaster or anyone else?


  22. Dear Mr. Mukul Sharma (if i am right in assuming that joining first and last names is the way generally names are written for e-communication), thanks for the insightful article. The likes of me who do not go by the face value of the news reports would be delighted to see something that offers a thoughtful discussion.
    In all the scheme of your article, i just recommend one modification. Please use the phrase ‘oppressed classes’ instead of Dalits, at least in English write-ups, as that is the right nomenclature used for untouchables. Personally, i feel the word Dalit has as much restrictive connotation as the word Harijan. However, i fully understand your prerogative to use words of your choice.
    Thank You.


  23. The indian psyche is so hopelessly conditioned by the ‘Avatar myhts’ of dharmic scriptures that anyone who can arouse these latent religious archetypes in the hindu mind, as Anna adroitly does, can command obedience form people as a shepherd from sheep.

    The Indian’s psychological constitution is founded on externalizing the locus of morality and locus of control.. People like Anna are only filling this psychic void which can be filled only when an Indian can satisy his ancient need to genuflect at totem.

    But other than that, on his own terns, Anna seems a honest enough even if regressive man. A great article that sifts the chaff from the grain.


    1. looks like indians are not alone. Avatar obama befooled american voters with his change mantra kool aid than any indian.


  24. Hi All?
    How many of you who are commenting here, have any idea how village life is? Has anyone been there for year atleast? Boss, Life in village is most complex believe me, You never have low and order situation, More the land louder the voice, and then you have same villagers as as landless, who are then labours, village system is the most old culture strived in this country, and specially country having 30-35 yrs of independence, who then didnot know abut anything about it…. those villagers in ralegaon sidhi that time, the social complex situation no one here can Imagin. specailly farmers having more land good wells (generally this special kind can be max 2 in village) can have crop twice year, but those have less land but no water, no land but no water, how do you expect this village should be living then?
    The village today which you see (sidhi), has its self-supportness, since last 25-30 years now. The fruits have been already ate by the villagers? irrigation system was then developed and done via shramdan of very villagers has paid off. they are eating these fruits so many years.. And now if any of these complain about his/her sons education?? his cast? no money?? what kind of S*# it is? India in last decade has changed completely of expediture and economy? inflation is high, the same villagers who use to be of help to each other it must be difficult for them to do it now.. because more the population less the land ?head in village.. I am sure there must b no land lord left in Sidhi now…. Point here is, when Anna made these villagers work, he first fought the Nasabandi in Village, Now tell me farmers who do not have enough crop to support families… and were doing daru-bhatti business, how to make change in their mind, to eradicate the liquor?? thos who are addicted how to make them free of it, in villages the rate of domestic violence is highest in India under alcoholism… how to get these people on track?? Anna Might have used the Military way to handle this situation.. and has been successful so as today there no sigaret or tobacco sold in village… forget the liquor..
    So this mahashay who is taking interview in 2010-2011, suppose to take them 25 yrs back when Anna actually made village stand on its feet. One of the roll-model in India for irrigation and water management…. Today villagers can put many excuses, and many villagers today are actully spies of political parties in maharashtra, which are suffered through Anna attack..lost many ministers and many public officials?
    Jo samaj ka kida hai.. uski to waat lagni hi chahiye….. if any villager is obstacle in darubandi, or nashbandi… he must tought a lesson this is how village works….

    Jai Hind……


  25. I am following all comments Ya Anna had authoritative so Lee in Singapur or Mao
    Fact is our country dont have the luxury of time to develop It takes 100 of years to develop Europe and America. Why compare Anna with modern Europe and American or our liberal values. On similar grounds we can count for loss of property of Landlords during Nehru.
    Some brashness is in all leaders


  26. Armchair pseudo Intellectual bull shit. Do something about the issue or shut up & let the people taking responsibility to do it. The main people behind janlokpal have devoted their lives to make India a better place, do not insult them by your 2 cents gutless defeatist attitude.
    People from Ralegaon are behind anna, one doesnt need to do any research on that.
    His fast has entered 6th day, just looking at him 1 knows he wants nothing his entire life is for the country, which is the least one can say about you.
    People like you would have been passing the same comments during british rule, instead of taking part in the reform process.


    1. How is this critique pseudo intellectual in any way. The man hs gone to and researched that village since 1991. Your rants clearly show the blind follower that you are. References like ” just looking at at him one knows..” … know what ??? Kindly dont let your own insecurities and limitations color your sense of reasoning so as to get outright rabid in whatever and whoever doesnt agree with you or your so called movement.
      This article actually does say a lot of the man behind the persona..n its no wonder why the likes of you would like similar methods such as jan lokpal take over whatever is left of this nation…the man’s not just a fascist but also a communal and casteist n if that is your idea of what india needs right now.,, then just say that rather than be pathetic apologist for tyranny of the moralistic


  27. I just wanted to present a few pieces of evidence that contradict some of Mr. Sharma’s claims,

    1) Absence of television: This article from the IE seems to indicate that Ralegan Siddhi villagers definitely have televisions,

    2) Gender roles and modernity: Another article says that a villager’s daughter goes to an engineering college,

    The second article also indicates that Hindi movies are not absent from Ralegan Siddhi (but perhaps cinema halls are).

    I must add that I am not in agreement with some of Hazare’s methods, particularly the prohibition of voting.


  28. Anna has rules . Is it like Taliban has rules . More clarifications needed. What will be the second phase . That is more crucial. No one say anything about Muslims and Christians. Lower caste is any how mentioned .What about other faiths other than Hinduism/ Maratha ism?…


  29. While I appreciate your lucid pen, I think you severely mis-understand both Maharashtra and Anna Hazares movement.You write with the typical blinkers of a de-racinated urban and Westernized elite.
    Maharashtian society has strong cultural pulls, and this combines with collective consciousness based on language and region.However that is not necessarily a retarding factor.You are seeing things from a middle-class urban view strongly influenced by a left-liberal agenda.But please understand that these views donot necessarily hold ground in a deeply traditional society, where even lower-caste movements are nativistic and deeply moored in Bhakti traditions.
    I have been a civil servant in the state and I have enough real experiences in the rural and semi-urban areas of Maharashtra, than someone like you, who does a field study deeply embedded in the constructs of a politically correct and monochromatic version of India that unfortunately exists only in the chattering class seminar halls and drawing rooms.


  30. The path of rural development here depends in a large measure on many other ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. No shop in Ralegan can sell bidis or cigarettes. Film songs and movies are not allowed. Only religious films, like Sant Tuka Ram, Sant Gyaneshwar can be screened. Only religious songs are allowed on loudspeakers at the time of marriages. Says Kailash Pote: ‘Last year a villager, who is a Mahar by caste and a driver by profession, got a dish antenna installed in his house and started watching cable. Anna scolded him severely and he had to apologise.’


  31. From his language, mukulsharma appears to be a christian evangelist deeply involved in the Joshua project..


  32. all this has nothing to do with his tremendous, beyond imagination and much needed uprising against corruption. he united the nation atleast to a great extent. he gave a voice to people like me to stand up and see others like me, today india knows that that there are many who are ready to take up this fight against corruption and all the credit goes to Anna dada. If he tries this what is highlighted in this article on a national level he will fail, he will not try it…..relax and accept it that the grand old man did what many where trying since decades, he got us all togather against corruption and brought the government and the opposition to its knees……ANNA HAZARE whatever you are thank you


  33. There have been many questions and opinions related to whether AHz is a Gandhian or not. This presumes that the Gandhian methods are superior to other other alternatives, but could we just look at the following

    1. India was let go by the British because of of the Strains caused by WW -II ,not because of MK Gandhi.Many other countries were also let off(e.g Burma Srilanka Malysia etc., though they did not have any Gandhi like figure in their midst.Plus there was extreme pressure from USA (UK’s largest creditor at end of WW-II),who did not want India to fall into USSR orbit in same way as China.

    2. We are under a misconception that Gandhian methods got us freedom.

    3. MKG was more like a safety valve cultivated by the British, used to relieve pent up pressure whenever required.Note the undemocratic way in which Subhash Bose was kicked out of congress although he was the “Elected president” of congress .

    4. We should not burden any future leader,reformer, activist to necessarily follow the “Gandhian Methods” as they will lead to maintenance of status quo, and any ruling clique will want that the opposing side follow “Gandhian Methods” to automatically blunt the movement.


  34. Wow, Excellent Article. Thanks for posting it.

    I wish entire India should become like Ralegan Siddhi..!! However as Anna fights against coruption and government people support him now. If he says to implement those five universal rules to all over India none of his followers would support him.

    He should try to change people first


  35. Team Anna has become confused. According to them they are at a crossroads and asking people to advise them by sending e-mail what they will do to bring new dawn to the million. The leaders are now asking the followers to guide them. Will not this be considered as the best joke we got from them at the beginning of the year? I knew that this would happen inevitably to them who wanted to build castle in the air by riding on wings of Indian Media. That was why I categorically mentioned in my e-mail, dated Nov.06, 2011, to the members of G-14 that Annaji’s future would be rudderless as because he had failed to identify the real enemies of the million.
    Now Annaji is ailing both physically and mentally. He says that he is being cheated. In my opinion he has cheated himself as well as his follower by not pointing the gun towards the nexus between corrupt politicians, terror corporate and hangdog media. That is the biggest menace before common
    Indians at this moment. It is the breeding ground of corruption. Terror corporate is robbing luck of poor Indians. No leader, cadre are available to protect these helpless Indians from hands of corporate.


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