Prof Ujjwal Kumar Singh, Chairperson of the Department of Political Science, Delhi University delivered the 9th Annual Professor Pradeep Kumar Memorial Lecture organized by the Department of Political Science, Panjab University, Chandigarh today. The theme of the lecture was ‘Reclaiming Democracy: Political Fasts as a Mode of Resistance’. The session was chaired by Professor P.S. Verma whereas Professor Brar introduced the audience to the personality and work of late Professor Pradeep Kumar.
In his lecture, Prof. Ujjwal K Singh underlined the salience of political fasts, also known popularly as hunger strikes, among the different modes of protests adopted to oppose injustice both in colonial and post-colonial India. He traced the history of the colonial regime wherein hunger strikes were first undertaken by political prisoners within jails but under the Gandhian movement had become a technique of mass mobilization. He underlined that in contemporary times, fasts are undertaken not only by those protesting injustice like the anti-corruption struggles of Anna Hazare, ecological struggles by G.D. Agarwal or against draconian laws like AFSPA by Irom Sharmila but had also now come to be appropriated by the state, for instance Narendra Modi’s or Tarun Gogoi’s fasts in 2008.
Political fasts, he said, have a serial effect. Hence the state has developed different kinds of responses to hunger strikes which range from forcible feeding, temporary release (which he also termed the cat and mouse game played by the state to break the will of the protester) and letting the matter take its own course which also meant letting the protestor die. These techniques of the state can be traced to the British response to various kinds of protesters from Suffragists to Conscientious Objectors to Irish movement in the early decades of the 20th century. In the context of the anti-colonial struggles from within prisons, Prof Singh argued that the Gandhian model was more successful as compared to the communist strategy of jail-break.
Professor Singh concluded his lecture by referring to the views of Nehru and Ambedkar regarding the possibility of continuing with satyagraha after the attainment of independence. While Nehru questioned the validity of satyagraha and drew attention to the need of state power for nation-building, Ambedkar argued for strictly constitutional forms of protests since only that would enable building democracy in an undemocratic society.