And in just five days, Anna Hazare proved that it wasn’t enough to have an honest prime minister if the country really needed to battle and overcome the cancer of corruption.
That he managed to unite a people as diverse as Indians on an issue like Lokpal bill – which few in the best of times would even know what it is all about – is indeed a remarkable achievement.
Imagine this. Most Indians had no knowledge of who the man was when the steely crusader began his fast in the heart of New Delhi April 5.
In a country of cynical millions, hunger strikes are no more the potent weapons they were when Mahatma Gandhi unleashed them against the Raj.
Although a simple man like the Mahatma, Hazare is not at home in English, which in today’s India can well be a disadvantage considering the profile of youthful and urban India.
But he had other attributes: austere life and a history of struggles – and victories.
He also had the backing of people who too enjoy the reputation of honesty, including Magsaysay award winners Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal.
Hazare had another weapon, one that was not of his making: it was the widespread anger among Indians in the wake of the scandalous revelations of corruption blamed on Suresh Kalmadi, A. Raja and more.
So Hazare proved to be the spark that ignited a wildfire in India.
Within days, people in state after state and in town after town, cutting across their religious and other barriers, realized that they finally had a man who was articulating their anger, their innermost frustration, and their hopes.
The 24-hour television channels only contributed to the cause. They did not create the mass resentment.
The volcano exploded. Jantar Mantar, an 18th century observatory, became Cairo’s Tahrir Square, drawing tens of thousands of young and old, educated and not so educated, retired and the still working, politically conscious and politically apathetic, housewives and Bollywood.
It was dominantly middle class though.
Suddenly, people strained to hear every word of a man they had never met before. By Day 4, the protest site had become so thick with people that there was no place to stand without being jostled.
There was undisguised display of patriotism – the euphoria matched only by the celebrations that followed India’s World Cup victory in cricket.
People waved the Indian flag – prompting Hazare to call his crusade against corruption a second independence movement.
The backdrop of the protest site had a map of India with the proverbial Bharat Mata. There was a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi and of Bhagat Singh, India’s Che.
Each time the fasting man spoke, the crowds roared. Complete strangers became one.
For a long time no one had heard non-political crowds raise such full throated cries of Vande Mataram and Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai on the streets.
By the time Hazare called off his fast, many were begging to touch his feet. He was their hero, their hope.
Like it or not, Anna Hazare is no more a name. He has become a symbol.