It was Mahatma Gandhi who introduced hunger strike as a weapon against the British. There were many even in the Congress party itself like the Mathrubhumi founder-editor KP Kesava Menon who opposed it, as it amounted to torture of one’s own body. For the father of the nation, however, it was a powerful tool against the alien rulers. In due course, fast became the most potent weapon against the powerful by the powerless. The British knew how to handle a rebellion as in 1857 but it did not know how to handle Gandhi’s frequent fasts.
Towards the fag end of the second UPA regime, a so-called Gandhian, Anna Hazare, took the centre stage at Ramlila Maidan and went on fast. He demanded the immediate enactment of a law to introduce the Lok Pal. Among his cheerleaders were Narendra Modi and company. He portrayed the Congress government as an epitome of corruption and did not relent till the Manmohan Singh government hastily enacted the law to set up the Lok Pal.
Hazare’s campaign gave a boost to such fallacious theories as the huge notional loss the country suffered in the allotment of telecom bandwidth and coal resources. Four years down the line, the courts have found that the charges were without an iota of truth. The campaign against corruption helped Modi to come to power but has he been able to prove a single charge against the UPA government during the four years he has been in power?
Take the case of the Lok Pal. The law is in place and all that the government has to do is to implement it in right earnest. The truth of the matter is that Modi does not want to have an Ombudsman-type institution to look into the corruption charges against him and his colleagues. As Chief Minister of Gujarat for over a decade, he did not show any interest in having a powerful Lok Ayukt to oversee his functioning.
Modi is scared that the Lok Pal would not allow him to enjoy the kind of comfort he has when no one in the party, save a Shatrughan Sinha or an Yashwant Sinha in Bihar and Jharkhand respectively, has the guts to oppose his dangerous policies like demonetisation, taking into his own hands the power to buy fighter aircraft from France and indulge in verbal diarrhoea called Mann ki Baath. How can he afford to have a super sleuth to oversee his functioning?
Hence Modi’s reluctance to implement the Lok Pal law. Ask him and he will tell the nation, how the corrupt Congress did not allow him to implement the law. Hazare was in Delhi recently, at the same Ramlila Maidan on a farcical fast against God-knows-what. He found himself attracting fewer and fewer onlookers with the BJP not sending its members to cheer him as was the case earlier. He ended his fast as quickly as he began it and disappeared from the scene in an allegedly chartered aircraft. Fighting corruption from a chartered aircraft in a country where a majority of the people cannot afford the Delhi Metro fares!
Who gave him the aircraft is as mysterious as how Nirav Modi managed to flee from the country after fleecing a public sector bank like the Punjab National Bank days soon after posing with the Prime Minister for a group photo at Davos, where the rich and powerful assemble once a year to discuss how more money can be made by overexploiting natural resources and looting the poor in the name of development.
If PM Modi had any desire to put in place a strong mechanism against corruption, all he needed to do was to implement the Lok Pal law. No, his desire is to return to power in the 2019 elections. The electoral drubbing the ruling party suffered at Gorakhpur in UP which Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath represented in the Lok Sabha for several terms and in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan was a straw in the wind. He knew that his days in power were numbered.
The Modi magic was no longer working. His Sancho Panza has equally been proved incapable of garnering votes. As more and more vehicles are seen in front of the Congress Party office on Akbar Road, he found the need to portray the Opposition party as a disruptor. Hence, he and company hit upon the idea of going on fast on April 12 against the alleged disruption of Parliament. It is true that the second half of the winter session of Parliament which ended recently was a washout.
But, then, who was responsible for it? The government has a parliamentary affairs minister whose primary job is to ensure that Parliament’s activities are carried on without disruption. And who heads the two Houses of Parliament? Both the Speaker and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha are dyed-in-the-wool party persons whose loyalty to the Sangh Parivar ideology cannot be challenged.
Why could not all these persons ensure that Parliament work was not disrupted? During the years 2009 to 2014 when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister, the BJP was single-handedly able to disrupt Parliament and ensure several washouts. What right does Modi have to go on fast against Opposition tactics? As Shatrughan Sinha pointed out in a tweet, the BJP disrupted Parliament for months claiming that Sukh Ram was corrupt.
Soon after wasting the precious time of Parliament, the BJP gave sanctuary to the same Sukh Ram declaring him as clean as the lotus flower. Today Sukh Ram’s son is a minister in the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh. Modi’s fast would have made sense if it was as a penance for his party’s own disruptions of Parliament in the past.
One of the democratic norms strictly followed in the country is to let the Opposition bring forward a no-confidence motion, which gets precedence over all other parliamentary work. For the first time this privilege was denied to the Opposition because the government feared that the debate would expose the skeletons in the BJP government’s cupboard. None of the new clothes that Modi wears every hour would have been sufficient to hide the dirt his government has accumulated over the last four years. It was not the Congress alone which disrupted Parliament.
Take the case of the Telugu Desam party, which was an ally of the BJP until recently. The party was promised a package to let the Centre bifurcate Andhra Pradesh and form Telangana but the government went back on its promise. Besides, the BJP had been doing everything possible to cut the Telugu Desam Party down to size in Andhra. Which self-respecting ally would tolerate that? It is for the same reason that the Shiv Sena, the BJP’s oldest ally, has been speaking against the Modi government as if it was a Marxist government.
One of the issues that agitated Parliament was the recent verdict of the Supreme Court which tried to water the provisions of the law which made atrocities on the Dalits a non-bailable offence. Of course, the government could claim that it had nothing to do with the court verdict when the fact is that its policies have been clearly against the interests of the Dalits. No one else had a greater influence on the Dalits than Guru Ravidas, whose poems form part of the Guru Granth Sahib.
He was a cobbler by profession. He was also a successful businessman. Today the tannery business is in trouble because the likes of Yogi Adityanath do not use leather. It was not long ago that some Dalit boys in Gujarat were beaten up because they were found to be skinning a dead animal. In the name of cow protection, slaughter of cattle has been banned depriving Dalits of their jobs. The whole nation saw how the BJP government behaved when a Dalit student of Hyderabad University Rohit Vemula was forced to commit suicide.
Did the government take prompt action when the Supreme Court tried to dilute the law that the SC communities consider as their magna carta? And if the MPs belonging to the Scheduled Castes were upset over the court verdict, could it be considered wrong? How come that the same Parliament, which was allegedly disrupted, was able to pass the finance Bills? If the finance Bills were not passed, Modi would not have been able to fly and the government would have come to a standstill.
So it was in its own interest to have the Budget passed. And it was in its own interest not to discuss corruption for it would have exposed the chinks in the administration. The BJP propaganda against the Congress is much ado about nothing. This is not to say that the Opposition tactics is all hunky-dory but it is more sinned against than sinning. To return to Modi’s fast, there is something positive about it.
In all religions, be it Hinduism or Christianity or Islam, fasts have a role to play. People observe fasts also to clean their bodies of impurities. Fasts also help people to realise what the pangs of hunger are. Children born and brought up in luxury do not know what hunger is because they have everything to eat in their fridge. For them, fasts serve the purpose of knowing how millions of people feel when they go to bed without food.
Be that as it may, if Modi had any conscience, he should have spoken against some recent incidents in the country. He could have even gone on fast to condemn them. But as usual, he is silent on such issues. My reference is to the gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir, ruled by the BJP in alliance with a Kashmiri party. The girl was gang-raped for three days in a temple, killed and her body thrown outside. Her condition was worse than Nirbhaya whose gang-rape was used by the BJP to put the Congress governments at the Centre and in Delhi in the spot.
What’s worse, there were people to protest against the arrest of the rapists. They even considered it a matter of prestige to hold the national tricolour while defending the rape. Lawyers who are supposed to defend the rule of law took the national flag to protest against the arrest of the men who gang-raped and killed the girl. Her only crime was that she had a Muslim name. Modi’s fast against the gang-rape would have helped isolate those who sprang to the defence of the rapists. Alas, the loquacious prime minister preferred to remain silent.
In UP from where Modi got elected to the Lok Sabha, there was an equally worrisome and horrible incident. A girl had been complaining that she was raped by a BJP leader but the police had been consistently refusing to register a case against the powerful politician. When all her attempts failed, she and her family protested in front of the Chief Minister’s house in Lucknow.
For the crime of protesting against the rape of his daughter by a BJP leader, the poor father of the girl was arrested and beaten up in police custody. He finally succumbed to the injuries, internal and external, he suffered at the hands of the police. This is how law and order is ensured in the state. Did Modi raise a finger against the incident? No, he did not.
What more could be expected from a chief minister who withdrew all the cases against him? He is also the one who has been doing everything possible to save the BJP workers facing charges of involvement in communal riots?
Narendra Modi’s fast would have made sense if it was directed against such wanton disregard of the law. Instead, he used it for petty politicking. He is the most powerful politician in the country. He enjoys huge majority in Parliament. A large majority of the states are ruled by his party. He and his sidekick say that after the Karnataka elections, the only place where the Congress would be in power is Puduchery. Yet, he and his MPs have to fast against the Congress which they have vowed to finish like the Dodo which the French had devoured soon after they occupied what is today Mauritius.
Modi received the mandate to ensure that corruption is kept at bay and nobody is discriminated against on the grounds of religion and caste. The gang-rape of the Muslim girl in Jammu and the growing atrocities against the Dalits are clear signs of his failure to honour the promises he made during the last elections. If he cannot control hooliganism, the least he can do is to leave the job and hand it over to someone who can uphold the rule of law at all times. That will be a great service to the nation. Not the farcical fast!(Published on 16th April 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 16)