The Big Story: Pulling a fast one

Flash fasts may be the greatest political innovation of our times, beating electronic voting machines, right to information, None Of The Above. Everyone is doing it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah will be holding a one-day fast to protest against the washout of the Budget Session. It seems to be a winning gesture, with political rival Arvind Kejriwal remarking, “Now that’s really cute... a one day fast... against himself”. The Congress recently fortified itself on a breakfast of chhole bhature before starving till lunch to protest against caste and communal violence. It is not clear that all party members got the memo on what the fast was about, since Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, both accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riot cases, were initially keen to join. Even anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare came out of retirement recently to fast against, well, corruption. But he held on to it for an unfashionable six days.

Nothing says commitment to causes like skipping a meal or two. It has the piety of Gandhian politics without the health hazards. Gandhi, of course, perfected the fast as a political tool – a gesture of self-abnegation with religious associations that would appeal to the public and also make the colonial administration nervous. It was an appeal to conscience, a ritual of purification that would cleanse the body politic. Somewhere down the line, these subtleties were lost and the fast became a ritual of brinkmanship, usually to get the government to meet certain demands. Mostly, these efforts have ended with soothing words from government, if not actual gains. In 2006, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, then an opposition leader, ended her 26-day hunger strike against the Singur land acquisition after she got a “nice” letter from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Naysayers still insist that Banerjee did not exactly go hungry for all 26 days. In 2011, Hazare only broke his 288-hour long fast after Parliament agreed to three of his key demands.

The modern flash fast was popularised by Modi. Always keen to be on trend, the then chief minister of Gujarat launched his sadbhavana fast in 2011, the same year that Hazare took Delhi by storm. A fast for communal harmony, it was key to the makeover from Modi, the chief minister who presided over Godhra 2002, to Modi, prime ministerial candidate for 2014. It restored elements of the Gandhian fast in that it did not make specific demands of government. But Modi also kept it brief: three days and no longer. He hit upon a winner. The flash fast has become the perfect political idiom for our times, the age of acronyms, the age of bite-sized Twitter wisdom, the age of short attention spans, the age of brevity.

The Big Scroll

Rohan Venkataramakrishnan on how Modi hopes to deflect blame for the washed out budget session with his fast.


  1. In the Indian Express, Sukhadeo Thorat argues that in four years of Bharatiya Janata Party rule, Dalits seem to be losing the gains they made earlier.
  2. In the Hindu, Ashish Kothari and Aseem Shrivastavaa point out the farmers’ protests interrogates the reigning development model and that alternatives do exist.
  3. In the Telegraph, Bhaskar Datta is sceptical of the United States’ newfound protectionism.


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