New Delhi: He started as a florist, drove trucks for the Army, but Kisan Baburao Hazare, popularly known as Anna Hazare, was destined to do something else in life. The man, who hails from a humble background, has today emerged as the icon of India`s war on corruption.
His diminutive stature hides his steely resolve. Like Mahatma Gandhi, he uses hunger strike as a weapon to hit out at the mighty. In just five days, he has generated a mini revolution in a country where undying hunger for easy money has become a way of life.
The modern day Mahatma, as his supporters fondly call him, fasted for five days in the heart of the capital, drawing tens of thousands from all walks of life who are sick and tired of India`s cancerous corruption.
It is a remarkable achievement for a 73-year-old man who dropped out of school at Class 7 due to poverty, sold flowers for a while and then became a driver in the Army to feed his family in a rural part of Maharashtra.
After China`s 1962 incursion into India, Hazare joined the Army, where he was trained as a truck driver and given a posting in Punjab.
His days in the Army were often spent in reading books by Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave, from whom he drew inspiration.
Much like Mahatma Gandhi, Anna Hazare has led a humble life. He still lives in a small room attached to the Yadavbaba temple in Ralegan-Siddhi village in Maharashtra`s Ahmednagar district.
His first target was his own village. A long time ago it was a miserable and barren place with scanty rainfall and lacking any economy. It suffered from frequent droughts.
The year was 1975. Launching watershed development programmes, he persuaded people to change their ways and managed to transform the barely breathing village to one Mahatma Gandhi would have been proud of.
India recognised his work by awarding him a Padma Vibhushan and a Padma Bhushan. But, unlike many, he would not rest on his laurels. He unleashed a war on corruption, launching the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan.
With his trademark khadi dress and Gandhi cap, Hazare used his ingrained strength to repeatedly go on hunger strikes that led to the resignation of six ministers from the Maharashtra government.
His campaign also forced the sacking of 400 corrupt officials in his home state Maharashtra.
His reputation as a man of integrity gave him clout that the corrupt found difficult to battle.
He also fought for the rights of tribals, the lowliest of the lowliest.
But he realised that nothing could be achieved until people were empowered.
And so he campaigned extensively for right to information, travelling for more than 12,000 km in Maharashtra, creating awareness about the legislation.
But it was the hunger strike he launched in New Delhi that finally made him a national hero -- in no time igniting a pan-India revolt that stunned the government bogged down by corruption scandals.