Protest fasts not Gandhian
By Tushar Gandhi Jun 05 2011
A Satyagrahi should fast only as a last resort when all other avenues of redress have been explored and have failed. There is no room for imitation in fasts. He who has no inner strength should not dream of it and never with attachment to success.” — M K Gandhi; Harijan: April 21, 1946.
“Fasting cannot be undertaken as against an opponent. Fasting can be resorted to only against one’s nearest and dearest, and that solely for his or her good.” — M K Gandhi; Young India: October 7, 1926.
In April, Anna Hazare sat on a fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to ‘force’ the government to draft the Jan Lokpal Bill, according to his wishes. The media billed Hazare as the modern day Mahatma and dubbed it the beginning of the second freedom struggle. The charismatic persona of Hazare caught the fancy of a thoroughly disgusted and disillusioned nation. People saw a new messiah in Hazare, who would deliver them from the grip of venal, self-seeking politicians and cleanse the nation from the taint of scams. Hazare mesmerised the nation and day-by-day, his movement grew and Indians rejoiced. For the first time, the Gandhigiri generation witnessed nonviolent satyagraha in action and was impressed by it. The government blinked and Hazare became the hero of the nation, the David who slew Goliath.
But Hazare’s movement was not Gandhian by any stretch of the imagination. In the second quote, I have listed above, Bapu says, “Fasting cannot be undertaken as against an opponent.” When Hazare sat on a fast at Jantar Mantar, there was a clear-cut ‘us’ and ‘them’; civil society on one side and the government, clearly, the villain, on the other. From Jantar Mantar, a lot of vitriol and ridicule rained on the government. I hold no brief for the government. I believe that a government that fails to live up to the expectations of its electorate and is seen to be ineffective in governance must be condemned severely and if necessary forced to relinquish office by a popular movement. This is not an appeal for sedition but a call to patriotic duty.
Bapu launched several movements for freedom or in defiance of the colonial rulers. Not once did he go on a fast to force the British to concede to any of his demands. He fasted against his own satyagrahis when at Chauri Chaura, they failed to stick to ‘ahimsa’, nonviolence. He went on a fast unto death. He did not descend on Chauri Chaura, his fast was never a public event; he fasted in his tiny room in his ashram. No one else was allowed to go on a fast with him and no podiums were constructed. Bapu did not fast against the British, he did not even fast against his own people to punish them for their errant ways. He fasted to punish himself because in the errors committed by his followers, he saw flaws and weaknesses in his own character.
In 1930, during the Dandi Kooch and the Namak satyagraha, Bapu did not fast to force the British to repeal the salt tax or relinquish their monopoly on the manufacture of natural salt.
The only time Bapu fasted against the British was when he went on a fast unto death to make them abandon their plan of introducing separate electorates. In 1942, Bapu did not go on a fast unto death to force the British to quit India. After independence, Bapu went on two fasts, once in Calcutta and the last in Delhi; both times he fasted for communal harmony and to stop the insane hordes from massacring each other. A fast to punish himself for the bestiality of the people, he had lead to freedom.
On Saturday, a five-star satyagraha was launched with much fanfare at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi by Baba Ramdev, the yoga guru; this time to rid India of the monster of corruption. Hazare joined him on Sunday. Before joining him, did Hazare ascertain where the money came from to pay for the private jet in which Ramdev descended on Delhi? Was it legitimate money on which all due taxes were paid? Or is Hazare now becoming a ‘serial satyagrahi’? Willing to associate with anyone, willing to compromise? Bapu warned that “There can be no room for imitation in fasts.” But today, ‘me too’ seems to be the guiding principle, more than ushering in a process of reform and cleansing.
Neither Hazare’s fast nor the five-star fast by Ramdev are with the intention of reform. If Hazare intended to reform the system, he would have ended his fast and got to work of reforming the system, not indulged in victory celebrations. When Bapu achieved his objectives as a result of his fast, he did not celebrate his victory nor did he allow any of his followers to celebrate; he took a sip of fruit juice, broke bread and got down to work.
(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)