People’s Notable Political Fasts



Fasts, whether for political or social ends, aren’t and have never been absent from the Indian scene even after the tryst with destiny. To give only one of countless examples, Potti Sriramlu starved himself to death in 1953. This virtually forced Jawaharlal Nehru to separate Andhra from what was then the multi-lingual state of Madras and is now Tamil Nadu.

Fifty-six years later, the fast of the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi leader, K. Chandrashekhar Rao, drove Union home minister P. Chidambaram to announce that the “process for the formation of Telangana state had been set into motion,” only to backtrack later.

In between, before “Punjabi suba” was conceded in 1966, Darshan Singh Pheruman had fasted for precisely this cause. The then authorities in Amritsar had handled both the fast and its explosive aftermath with exemplary skill.

Medha Patkar has been fasting all the time of which little notice is taken because her demands are usually local and she fasts far away from the national capital. Shortly after Mr Hazare’s first fast in April, an obscure swami in Uttrakhand gave up his life while fasting against illegal mining; New Delhi did not bat an eyelid.

In distant Manipur, a brave lady, Irom Sharmila, has been on hunger strike for 10 long years, demanding a repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, that is in place in parts of Manipur and the north east and gives the Army and the paramilitary forces the power to shoot or arrest on mere suspicion. The Indian state has kept her alive on a cocktail of vitamins and nutrients. She is force-fed twice a day through her nose. and nobody is bothered because the police periodically force-feeds her.

More Recently Nigamanand went on a fast unto death to protest against illegal mining on the bank of the Ganga in Haridwar. He started his fast on February 19 from Haridwar.On April 30, the district administration forcibly shifted Nigamanand – a seer at the Matri Sadan Ashram – to the Haridwar District Hospital as his condition started to deteriorate.But even then, he refused to touch food. On May 2, he entered into a coma. He was then shifted to Dehradun’s Himalayan Hospital and put on life support.
Nigamanand, 34, finally died on Monday – almost four months after he gave up food.

The difference this time around is that “Fast Anna” has created an enormous storm across the country against rampant corruption. “Generation Y” is up in arms. The Lokpal Bill doesn’t matter; Anna’s personality does not matter. The man and the moment seem to be made for each other, and the bumbling government knows not what to do. Add to it the monumental folly of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in first arresting him and then abjectly surrendering to him.

According to Gopal Gandhi, a grandson of the Mahatma and a former civil servant, diplomat and governor, his grandfather fasted on 30 different occasions. One-third of these were directed against no one other than himself. These were occasions for “atonement” or “self-purification”. Another one-third of the fasts were meant to influence the attitudes of Indian society or parts of it.

For instance, in 1918, the Mahatma went on an indefinite fast because mill-owners of Ahmedabad had declared a lockout against the striking mill workers. Within 48 hours of the beginning of the fast, the mill-owners scurried to lift the lockout.

A profoundly important fast in this genre he undertook in 1930 was to persuade the Harijans (as the Dalits were then called), led by Bhimrao Ambedkar, to give up separate electorates for them offered by the British. The Mahatma argued that this would vivisect each of the half-a-million villages of the country. Ambedkar agreed and settled for reservation of seats in legislatures.

The remaining one-third was meant for “pressurising” (some said “coercing”) the British government. These succeeded some time and didn’t at other times. During the last of these in 1943, at the Agha Khan Palace in Poona where he was detained, the Viceroy had made arrangements for Mahatma’s funeral. But he lived to perform a miracle by his fast in Calcutta in the aftermath of the Great Calcutta Killings. In three days flat, the one-man army of Gandhi put an end to the mad frenzy and mindless slaughter.

The first Indian to go on a fast in the heart of Delhi against the government of Nehru and Sardar Patel was none other than the Mahatma.

His two lieutenants had refused to transfer to Pakistan `55 crore this country was bound to give it under the Partition Agreement. Their argument that the money couldn’t be handed over while the first Kashmir War (1947-48) was on. On the second day of the fast, the cash was sent to Karachi post-haste.

Source : Media

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