Free Press Journal

Lunch to dinner stir: Fasts are now a farce

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Indian National Congress party president Rahul Gandhi (3R), sits with other party leaders as he observes a fast outside Raj Ghat, the memorial to the father of the Indian nation Mahatama Gandhi, in New Delhi on April 9, 2018. Indian national congress party president Rahul Gandhi visited Raj Ghat before the start of his party's nation wide fast to protest against the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi government of disturbing social harmony in the country. / AFP PHOTO / MONEY SHARMA

When I was a school-going child, circus used to be the chief attraction during long vacations. I and many like me grew up watching nail-biting circus shows. It used to come under a different banner every year; sometimes it would be called Russian Circus and sometimes Rambo Circus. Each time, the banners and the players would be different. But curiously, their acts never changed. The same gymnastics and the same aerobatics. There would be the same fire-ball games and the same acts by the clowns. The lion and elephant performances also never changed.

The recent ‘shows of fasts’ reminded me of the same circus shows. Once the ‘fast show’ carried the banner of the Congress. However, within two days the banner read the ‘Bharatiya Janata Party’. The Congress’ ‘fast show’ was ostensibly for registering protest against the atrocities against Dalits and women. Two days later, when the BJP resorted to a mass hunger strike, the reason given was protest against Congress for disturbing the Budget Session of the Parliament.

Both the campaigns stank of political gains. The aim was to create an atmosphere before the nation goes to poll in mid-2018. The reason given was a shameless and vivid eye-wash. Fasts are now farce. Political parties seem to be competing to degrade the notion of protest fasts. When photos emerged of Congress leaders stuffing themselves with chhola-bhatura just before sitting down to fast protesting atrocities against Dalits, you’d think a new low had been achieved.


Distant from the Mahatma

The media and the people at large for the first time bravely criticised the political attempts to fool them singularly and collectively. Thus, it might be a good idea for all of our politicians to quietly get together and agree: no more fasts. All fasts remind us exactly how distant our politicians are from Mahatma Gandhi. When the Mahatma underwent one of his fasts unto death, it was for something consequential, something that you know he believed in, and it was a genuine form of pressure on an unfriendly government. It was an instrument of someone with no legal power but enormous moral stature: a declaration that on this issue, I care enough to risk my health and even to die. Now-a-days, we have fasts between lunch and dinner, or one-day fasts. Naturally, therefore, the supposed objective of a fast is demeaned and belittled by this sham protest.

How insincere is BJP’s decision to fast in protest against disruptions of parliament given that this is the same party that held up entire sessions of the Lok Sabha protesting against various issues? Do they really think that people in 2018 have no memory at all? And even if we don’t, do they think we have no access to Google? I was a Member of the Parliament from 2008 to 2014 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress government was in saddle and the BJP was the chief Opposition in both the Houses. I have witnessed three consecutive sessions of the Parliament being washed out due to slogan-shouting and ruckus created by the Opposition led by the BJP. That time, the chaos was beautifully termed as ‘Parliamentary tool’ and ‘Reflection of people’s anger’. Where has that ‘philosophy’ gone?

Few governments have done more to undermine parliament than this one. It has certified bills such as the Aadhaar legislation as money bills, in defiance of precedent or simple logic, just to avoid debates in the Rajya Sabha. In some cases, bills are deemed to have been returned by the Rajya Sabha even though they have not been the subject of discussion in that House. This government passed its budget, surely the most crucial bit of law-making in the year, in 18 minutes — without even an attempt at a debate. The Speaker used the “guillotine”, a method of shutting off discussion, to ensure that one-third of ministry and department allocations weren’t debated either.

Shameful and shocking

The most shameful and equally shocking part of the story is that for the last few weeks of Parliament, it was adjourned after a few minutes every day perhaps to avoid the possibility of a no-confidence motion being admitted. Can you imagine the implications of this? The precedent it sets?

As said earlier, fasts have now become farce. No politician has ever gained credibility from fasting in recent decades because nobody believes they would ever actually put their health or their lives on the line. How insulated are our politicians from what we think of them, if they believe that anyone is impressed by someone skipping lunch? If they think that putting out a tweet or a Facebook status update about a fast convinces even one voter that the politician cares about the issue at hand?

As the two ‘Hunger Strike Shows’ are done with, the question still remains — Do our politicians really mean to respect the eternal teachings of Mahatma Gandhi? He gave a philosophical overtone to the term ‘Fast’. Gandhi believed that the ‘Upvaas’ (Fast) is a tool for ‘Atma Shuddhi’ (Self cleansing). Have our politicians realised the meaning of the term? Do they really believe in self purification? If not, the two shows of Six-Hour Upvaas was nothing more than a timid farce. The matter of worry is that this farce would, in future, be played at the cost of Indian population.

Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).