New Manager

Moving the masses Anna's way

| Updated on May 22, 2011

Janaseva, the path to finding meaning in life. (Above) Greeting a gathering afterending his fast in support of an effective Lokpal Bill in New Delhi last month.— V. Sudershan   -  The Hindu

A principled and disciplined life has seen this farmer emerge as a leadership icon for the entire country.

Anna Hazare spoke to a group of volunteers from ‘India Against Corruption', including myself, recently. His speech was peppered with old-fashioned wisdom and spiritual values buttressed with examples from his own life and work. ‘Anna Speak' has the mark of leadership with a capital L and that's why Anna is relevant to organisational leadership today. Here are some leadership lessons from Anna Hazare.

Transparency and humility is the hallmark of charisma.

Anna ascribed the success of his fast to the efforts of the whole team. He was candid enough to admit that he did not anticipate the huge groundswell of support, neither did he pretend to fully understand the reasons for this. Most importantly, Anna sees himself only as an instrument of the Supreme, tasked with the role of cleansing the system, a belief propounded in the Bhagwat Gita.

Leaders must exhibit probity in speech and action always.

Anna ascribed the reason he has been able to oust corrupt elected representatives and officials in his home State of Maharashtra to his blemish-free public life. This diminutive man who lives in a temple, with no worldly possessions barring a small bank balance and a few acres of land, wields enormous clout because of his honesty. He talks in a matter-of-fact way about having been behind the removal of six Cabinet Ministers and 400 Government officials from their respective positions. Anna also recounted the story of a pliable judge sentencing him to three months in jail in a defamation case filed by a victim of his crusade. Within days, protests by the people of Maharashtra led the then Government to send late-night orders for his release. When Anna insisted on release by a Court order alone, he was told he would be forcibly released and spent the night in VIP quarters!

Loyalty is obtained by selfless service and not self-seeking behaviour.

The remarkable economic and social transformation wrought by Anna in the small drought-prone village of Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra, has led to a stream of 5 lakh visitors from across the globe in the last five years, who come to study the village's sustainable development model. Anna's methods included watershed management, soil and water conservation and tree plantation and have resulted in a multitude of crops compared to barely one crop harvested in the past. With the onset of prosperity, the villagers have, at Anna's behest, made the village a tobacco, cigarette and liquor-free village. Moreover, Ralegan Siddhi presents a sparklingly clean environment with no cattle-grazing or defecation in the open. Anna spoke of how he periodically picked up a broom and a pail to clean up night-soil which slowly shamed the villagers into mending their ways. It is not for nothing that Hazare is affectionately known as Anna or big brother.

Giving an example from his farming roots, Anna says that it is only when a seed buries itself in the ground that a bountiful harvest is possible. Those seeds of grain that do not sacrifice themselves are destroyed as they are milled for flour!

‘The dream of India as a strong nation will not be realised without self-reliant, self-sufficient villages. This can only be achieved through the social commitment and involvement of the common man' is one of Anna Hazare's guiding principles.

With over 85 villages under Anna's radar for replicating the Ralegan Siddhi model, it is no wonder that over the last 30 years, since he started to raise his voice against injustice, the public at large has stood with him.

Character flows from the spiritual values of discipline, moderation and following the middle path.

Anna is a living example of the definition of leadership propounded by Stan Slap, the author and founder of the management consultancy Slap: “The irreducible essence of leadership is that leaders are people who live their deepest personal values without compromise and they use those values to make life better for others — this is why people become leaders and why people follow leaders.”

As a young 26-year-old, Anna wrestled with the metaphysical questions of the meaning of life and the never-ending pursuit of the material, when he chanced upon a book by Swami Vivekananda. It was a life-changing experience and provided the ethical and moral compass that Anna was looking for. His life choices were not without struggle, Anna admitted. He often questioned his decision to remain single so as to dedicate his life fully to “ seva” or social service or a cause higher than one's own self. However, he disciplined his mind to stay steady on the course he had chosen.

Hazare's persona and aura, when experienced at close quarters, reflect his foundation and belief in the values of moral goodness and janaseva as the true meaning of life. He quotes from a Marathi saint's saying, ‘If you want to be happy, make others happy first.' This has given Anna immeasurable satisfaction and joy, despite having negligible material possessions and no formal position of power.

Speak up against social injustice even at the cost of personal affront/insult

Anna is an example of a leader rather than a power wielder. The latter often wrongly style themselves as leaders. Anna spoke of his early days as a young flower vendor in Mumbai when he would take up cudgels with the police to stop them from extorting hafta payments from roadside hawkers, often at personal risk. The moral courage to take a stand against injustice comes from his belief in living for a cause above himself. Anna has not let the song he was meant to sing stay stifled within himself. His wanting to pay back the debt of those who martyred themselves for an independent India, led him to volunteer for the Indian Army after India's defeat in the Indo-China war of 1962. Even in the army he raised issues of injustice against jawans with officers several times.

Anna's efforts have eradicated social barriers between upper and lower caste villagers in Ralegan Siddhi, where villagers of all castes come together to celebrate social events. Most surprisingly, the upper caste villagers have built houses for the lower caste Dalits and helped them repay loans, freeing them from indebtedness.

In the early 2000s, Anna led a non-violent movement in Maharashtra, which forced the State Government to repeal the earlier weak act and pass a stronger Maharashtra Right to Information Act. This Act was later considered as the base document for the Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI), enacted by the Union Government. “All corruption can end only if there is freedom of information,” said Hazare.

Sustainable development practices

A buzzword today, sustainable development practices were integrated into Anna's village development model years ago. Large-scale tree and grass plantation, rainwater harvesting and organic farming practices are among the methods he has used successfully. He believes that the ordinary citizen has to take up the cause of the environment, as an elected Government only has a five-year perspective i.e. till the next elections. Currently, his organisation, which works in 85 villages, is extending its reach to another 100 villages.

Leaders lead by working in the trenches

Anna's work at transforming Ralegan Siddhi started with his using his retirement funds to renovate the dilapidated village temple, which soon became a congregation point for villagers. With the help of a group of villagers, Anna initially constructed bunds and tanks for rainwater harvesting without waiting for Government funding. With this scheme yielding visible results, other social and educational projects have since been undertaken. It is a mark of Anna's leadership that villagers have taken on Shramdaan (voluntary work without payment) for projects such as digging of community wells, organising mass marriages, working in Dalit-owned fields to repay their loans, construction of public toilets and tree plantation.

(The writer is an independent management consultant who holds an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad.)

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on May 22, 2011
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor