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Anna no modern-day Gandhi, says scholar

By Amit Agnihotri, IANS,

Ahmedabad: Anna Hazare can’t be termed a modern-day Mahatma Gandhi and his fast against corruption was not a ‘satyagraha’, says a Gandhian scholar who is miffed over the comparison between the activist and the Father of the Nation.

“Gandhi fasted for self-purification. His satyagaraha meant victory for all. He never fasted to conquer anybody,” Dina Ben Patel told IANS referring to Hazare’s fast to make the government bring in a strong anti-corruption Lokpal Bill.

According to researchers, Gandhi, whose 142nd birth anniversary was celebrated Sunday, fasted around 25 times during his lifetime.

“Hazare cannot be termed a modern-day Gandhi,” Patel said. “Hazare’s fast was not satyagraha.”

According to Patel, who carries on her research at the historical Gandhi Ashram on the banks of Sabarmati river, Hazare’s fast “at times appeared like a showdown with the government” and “his body language and strong views presented an aggressive image”.

Hazare’s August fast at Ramlila ground in the national capital, which captured the imagination of the country and forced the parliamentarians to hold a special discussion on Lokpal, was compared by many with Gandhi’s fasts against the British during pre-independence days.

Hazare’s supporters ensured a giant portrait of Gandhi formed the backdrop of the stage where he fasted at Ramlila ground. This was in stark contrast to the poster of Bharat Mata (Mother India) on the dais during the social activist’s earlier April fast at Jantar Mantar.

According to Patel, the Jan Lokpal bill, drafted by Team Anna, would require setting up a large bureaucratic structure in the country under the anti-graft ombudsman. She said Gandhi was always for decentralising authority.

Citing an instance to indicate that Gandhi’s fasts were “nuanced”, Patel said he fasted in 1918 to express solidarity with agitating Ahmedabad mill workers, who were demanding better wages.

Gandhi went on fast after some of them remarked he did not understand their problems as he was not the one without food.

Later, when the dispute was settled, Gandhi regretted the mill owners agreed to the workers’ demands out of fear than due to their conviction.

“Gandhi believed it was not proper to fight a weakened opponent. He never took advantage of the weakness of others,” said Patel.

The many hunger strikes undertaken by Gandhi included giving up evening meals when someone in his ashram objection to the admission of a Harijan family Sep 11, 1915 and also protesting against the partition of the country Aug 15, 1947.

(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at [email protected])