ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Century of Political Fasting

A Century of Political Fasting

Fasting as a political weapon may be headed towards irrelevance despite its apparent success in the case of Telangana.

Six decades ago, a fast unto death by Potti Sriramulu led to the creation of Andhra Pradesh – the first linguistic province in India. This led to the eventual reorganisation of the non-Hindi speaking regions of India into linguistic states. Earlier this month, Telangana Rashtra Samiti president K Chandrasekhar Rao’s fast unto death pushed the United Progressive Alliance government to take a similar decision, this time in some sense a reversal of the action provoked by Potti Sriramulu’s fast. It is too early to state whether the tentative decision to separate Telangana from Andhra Pradesh, also taken as a result of a political fast, will start off a similar chain reaction of provincial reorganisation, but the utility of fasts as a powerful political weapon have again been foregrounded.

Fasting, or the deliberate denial of food for oneself, has been a part of almost all religious practices of humans. Surprisingly, the act of fasting never crossed the sacral limits of religion till it was secularised by M K Gandhi in 1914 when he undertook a fast to protest the racial laws of South Africa. Gandhi drew on the rich traditions of religious (Hindu in his case) fasting to hone this political innovation and it soon became a central feature of the Gandhian satyagraha. In his world view, a person fasts to purify one’s own self of those shortcomings, which stand in the way of achieving truth and convincing the opponent of the truth. It was deployed by Gandhi himself most often to discipline his own followers, most famously in the aftermath of Chauri-Chaura. In this sense, non-violent civil disobedience can be viewed as the political weapon directed at the State, while fasting was primarily the weapon to restrain one’s own violent excesses. In this, Gandhi’s political fasts shared a strong similarity with religious fasting.

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