Ralegan Siddhi: Letters land up just by Anna Hazare`s name. Tourists now include this hitherto unknown village in their itineraries even as authorities struggle to manage the overwhelming crowds. Most politicians avoid it.
Ralegan Siddhi, social crusader Anna Hazare`s native village in Maharashtra`s Ahmednagar district, suddenly finds itself in the midst of unprecedented limelight, thanks to the media play that he and his movement has got in the last few months. It has now been catapulted to the country`s pilgrimage and tourist circuits.
The septuagenarian anti-corruption activist has scaled new heights of popularity and admiration from people across the country and even abroad.
A majority of people visiting Shirdi`s Sai Baba Temple, Shani-Shingnapure Temple in Ahmednagar district or even Pune and its Bhimashankar peak and Malshej Ghats, make it a point to visit Ralegan Siddhi, according to locals.
Kishore Mapari, the manager of a local museum-cum-infomedia centre, said that till March an average of 500 curious people used to visit the village daily.
"This has changed after his two agitations and hunger strikes in New Delhi. Now, we get over 1,500 people daily which includes students, academicians, researchers, tourists, pilgrims and commoners," Mapari told.
But most politicians tend to stay away. The Anna Hazare movement against corruption has consciously kept politicians at bay, with some Team Anna leaders like Kiran Bedi also publicly lampooning them.
Besides going around the village - converted into an eco-friendly model of self-sufficiency and prosperity by Hazare - they express eagerness for information on his strategies which changed the lives of the villagers.
The visitors also grab two of Hazare`s books -- "A New Freedom Struggle" and "My Village: My Place of Pilgrimage" -- available in Hindi, Marathi and English which are picked up at the counters.
Mumbai youth Rajesh Patil said he was impressed to see how the village has prospered under Hazare`s guidance. "Makes us wonder why such simple strategies cannot be replicated all over the country," he said after his second visit in six months.
K.R. Dwivedi arrived from Lucknow, only hoping to get a `darshan` of Annaji. He succeeded but from afar last Saturday when Hazare came to address the gathering briefly on two occasions.
The local post office bears testimony to the fact that Hazare`s fame indeed has spread worldwide.
"Letters are addressed to him simply by name, or some by the village or district name; no other address is required to write to him," post office manager R.D. Gosavi said smilingly.
`Respected Anna Hazare`, `Annaji, Ahmednagar`, `Hazare Saheb, Ahmednagar` or even `Annasaheb, Ralegan Siddhi` are sufficient to ensure that any communication reaches him without fail.
Gosavi said that in the past few months, mail addressed to Hazare has jumped manifold to around 800 per day. These mainly include open post-cards or letters, accounting for around 80 percent of the post office`s daily load.
Admitting that it was a tough job handling so much workload, the post office manager is happy that the tiny village with a population of around 3,500 is now famous all over India and even outside the country thanks to Hazare.
Many victims of corruption write or come to meet the activist with their complaints, hoping for a redressal. Nobody is turned away and he patiently listens to them in small groups at the Padmavati Temple or Yadavbaba Temple in the village.
"Outsiders see in Hazare `a messiah` who has come to relieve them of all evils confronting the country. His simplicity is striking and endears him to all," said Pankaj Shah, retired state government employee from Surat, Gujarat, who attended Hazare`s first rally in the village last fortnight.
However, all the attention and focus on Ralegan Siddhi has the village authorities worried about the lack of infrastructure to cater to the hordes descending daily.
Village head M. Jaisingh told mediapersons that many people want to stay for at least two-three days, but there are hardly any facilities.
"In the next gram sabha meeting, we will take up a proposal to build some dormitories or dwellings for the people to stay overnight or for a few days," he assured.
Currently, a majority of people stay overnight either in adjoining district of Pune or Ahmednagar town or Shirdi, preferring to make a day-long trip to Hazare`s village and catch a glimpse of the leader if he is around.
The anti-corruption crusader`s 12-day protest fast at Delhi`s Ramlila Maidan saw people turning up in tens of thousands from across the country last month.