Wednesday 22 November 2017

'New Gandhi' used fear and violence to build model village

Dean Nelson in Ralegan Siddhi, India

INDIA'S 'new Gandhi', the anti-corruption leader whose hunger strike has provoked nationwide protests, led a campaign of fear and intimidation to create his acclaimed model village, his followers said yesterday.

Anna Hazare's campaign for an anti-corruption watchdog has paralysed the Congress-led government and inspired millions to protest against widespread fraud and bribery.

Now in the 10th day of his fast, Mr Hazare has lost about 15lb and his health is deteriorating. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, paid tribute to him yesterday and called for parliament to debate the reform proposals today.

But while Mr Hazare is widely admired for his campaign, there are growing concerns over his authoritarian style and use of violence to effect change.

Senior aides said yesterday that he ordered a gang of youths to destroy distilleries and publicly thrashed "drunkards" in a campaign to ban alcohol from his village.

Mr Hazare's transformation of his native village, Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra, from a barren landscape tilled by poor farmers and blighted by illiteracy and alcoholism, won international plaudits and a Padma Bhushan, India's third highest award. His work has been recognised by the World Bank.

Mr Hazare established a series of projects to conserve water, stockpile grain, develop dairies, plant trees and build schools and training institutes.

He introduced social reforms to end caste divisions and ended a ban stopping 'untouchables' from drawing water from the upper caste well. Literacy rates rose to 100pc.


But according to senior aides in his charitable trust, his revolution was based on a strict code of behaviour -- and violent punishments against those who broke it.

Several senior disciples of Mr Hazare said the use of violence was central to the village's transformation. Thakaram Raut, a trustee of Mr Hazare's Hind Swaraj Trust, said his leader used a gang of youths to destroy the distilleries which ignored his order to close. "Drunkards" who broke the ban on alcohol were brought to the village square, tied to a pole covered with barbed wire and personally whipped by Mr Hazare.

The village head, Jaisil Mahapari, said, "He loves the villagers as his own children and punishes them to create obedient children. People are afraid of him, but this is respect." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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