Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Concept of FASTING in the contemporary political arena

Traditionally, fasting implies afflicting the soul through constant and intended abstaining of food and liquid to harmonise the inner and outer spheres of an individual and draw him closer to God, leading to the control of impulses, passion and temper.

But in its political application, fasting however has merely become a tool/means to make a political statement, to protest, or to bring awareness to a cause. A hunger strike is a method of non-violent resistance in which participants fast as an act of political protest, or to provoke feelings of guilt, or to achieve a goal such as a policy change.

For a political fast it is imperative cause behind the fast be a noble one. Nor will it do any good if the issue affects a small core in a distant heartland. Political fasts gain public attraction in contemporary times only when a broad range of people believe that their basic democratic rights are blatantly and unarguably violated. This transgression should be in clear black and white leaving no room for even a shadowy, grainy second opinion. These fasts should be politically and ethically powerful, when turned into blackmail, it loses its ethical purpose.

When Bobby Sands died on the 66th day of his hunger strike in a Northern Ireland jail, anger rose across the country for he represented Irish Nationalist aspirations. Same was the case with The Suffragette, Catherine Fry, who attained iconic status because she died fasting for equal rights to women. Likewise, Mahatma Gandhi succeeded because he was doing it for Independence and the rights of citizens. For similar reasons, Thileepan's hunger strike in Sri Lanka in 1987 met with mass support, as did the sacrifices of Akbar Ganji in Iran and Pedro Luis Boitel in Cuba. When Potti Sriramlu died in 1952 on the 82nd day of his fast for the unilingual state of Andhra Pradesh, there was public outrage from Hyderabad to Chennai. If these heroes are remembered today it is because of the transparency of their cause.

Hunger strikers have often gone wrong, dreadfully wrong, in thinking that because their cause is laudable it would find public support. Swami Nigamanand died unsung because his quest for a clean Ganga could not be projected as a "democratic right". Similarly, Darshan Singh Pheruman lost his life in vain in 1969 after being on a fast for 74 days. His demand that Chandigarh be the exclusive capital of Punjab has still not been met. Unfortunately for Pheruman, not only did his cause appeal to just a few, it could also be interpreted as a matter of policy, and not of right.

Anna did well because he successfully showcased his fast as a fight for the citizen across the country. Public corruption is so in our face in every corner of India that even a cabinet full of ostriches cannot shut it out. But if Anna had stayed away from this core demand and drifted into matters of policy, he would be counting beads on his own in Ralegan Siddhi. Had he remained firm to his earlier maximalist position of "my bill or nothing" his popularity would have gradually waned for the actual shape of an anti-corruption legislation is a matter of policy, and can be debated. Neither did Narendra Modi had none of the ingredients of a successful fast. It was a controlled, canned and air-conditioned affair from start to finish. Most importantly, where was that violated democratic right he was trying to restore?

In the light of this understanding of the concept of ‘fasting,' the contemporary political versions seem nothing more than hollow imitations. Suddenly, fasting is all the rage again. Wherein Indian politicians and protesters are almost seen queuing up to fast to press their demands. Though religious texts have been mentioning the use of fasting as a method of protest in India but so far I’ vent heard any Indian die of fasting.

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