New Delhi, Apr 17: Social activist Anna Hazare has said that if his fast unto death on the issue of Lok Pal was considered "blackmail", then he was ready to do it again. As guest editor of Times of India, Hazare replied to several questions, the most prominent being the charge of "blackmail".
He was asked: Many people have accused you of blackmailing the government through his fast. To this, Hazare replied:
"Yes, so? .. As long as I'm alive and as long as it benefits the people, I'll keep blackmailing the government. What's the problem?" he chortled gleefully.
Hazare admitted that he himself didn't anticipate the kind of popular upsurge that he saw during his Delhi fast for the Jan Lokpal Bill."I still don't understand it...if my fast had continued for three more days, the government would have fallen," he said.
Hazare said, corruption has reached a point where it was affecting one and all, the rich and the poor. "The government, too, seems to know this. It sensed the depth of popular emotions on the issue raised by us and quickly agreed to our demand for a joint drafting committee for the Bill."Asked about the failings of the present system, Hazare referred to rural reforms.
"We focus on the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha but have completely omitted the Gram Sabha. In fact, that's where the real power should lie. Just as ministers are accountable to the legislature at both the central and state level, the sarpanch and deputy sarpanch should be accountable to the Gram Sabha. Decentralization is going to be my next big focus area."
Hazare proudly talks about the changes he brought about in his own village, Ralegan Siddhi."There used to be 40 liquor vends there. Now, it has been 13 years since someone smoked or drank there. Almost 80% of people there used to go hungry. Now, we export vegetables. There wasn't enough water to irrigate 300 acres. So, we took up rainwater harvesting and now grow crops twice a year over 1,500 acres."
"All this wasn't done through any major government expenditure, or investment by some billionaire," he points out."It just shows you what can be achieved through genuine autonomy. I believe our urban-centric development model is flawed. We need to rethink economic policy to focus on villages."
On the issue of his controversial praise of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, Hazare said: "I was quoted out of context. I was asked a question about rural development under Modi and Nitish Kumar and I said that I have heard that they have done good work. But I also clearly said that I am against communalism and anything that divides the nation."
"Since then, I have received many letters and emails saying there is corruption and mismanagement in Gujarat's rural development programme," he added. "I don't know if there is any truth to this. But if there is, then I withdraw my statement praising Modi."
About B S Yeddyurappa, Hazare said he wasn't aware of the controversy surrounding the Karnataka CM, and had to be briefed on it at some length by fellow activist Arvind Kejriwal. The moment Kejriwal stopped, Anna had a response ready. "Apni pehli sabha wahi bithayenge (we'll have our first session there"), he quipped.
Hazare was also quick to point out that in Maharashtra, he had protested against UPA and NDA governments alike. "If one graduated in corruption, the other did a PhD in it," he joked.Asked if he thought young people should emulate his austere, bachelor lifestyle, Hazare replied: "Not at all".
"I always tell youngsters, `Earn money but honestly and legitimately. If you acquire more than you need, spend some on a good purpose. Marry, have children and make them socially aware citizens. Adhering to a vow of celibacy is like walking on a knife's edge. After all, even Vishwamitra succumbed to Menaka's charms. My only objection to having a family is that it can make a man very selfish, like the person who says that I don't care if your beard is on fire but I must have my bidi."