Sunday, August 28, 2011

Are fasts weapons of blackmail?

Even since revolution erupted in Egypt, we have been talking about the need for a revolution in India too. It was based on the perception that a collective will of the people must be expressed in strong terms so that the way this country is being run must be changed for better.  This urge found an outlet in Annaji's fast. There will be 2 types of talks on whether Annaji's fast really made any breakthrough or not. On my part I have the following views to share.

At the outset a fast brings into my mind 2 concepts of Vedic wisdom. One is the Vaisavanara and the other is an explanation from Chandhogya Upanishad  on what happens when one does not eat for 16 days but only survive on water.

Vaisvanara is an Agni which digests the food we eat. Generally the Vedic hymns consider Agni as a cleanser and a remover of sins. It is because Agni shines. Knowledge is born when darkness of ignorance is chased by the light shed by Agni. But the Vaisvanara Agni itself is considered as Knowledge or the Brahman which keeps the beings alive. This Agni is present in all living beings as the Fire of Digestion.  We eat to satisfy Vaisvanara. The first offering of food goes to this Vaisvanara. It is to satisfy Vaisvanara, we offer food to others. Thus goes the description about Vaisvanara.

When one denies food to himself, he is denying food to Vaisvanara. Even if there is denial of food, the body starts giving food to Vaisvanara by metabolizing  the stored food in tissues and proteins and fats. Thus even if a person denies food to himself,  he can not deny this food to Vaisvanara, the Brahman.  When the denial is done for a selfless cause, the Vaisvanara keeps awake and knows not to hurt the person. That is why a Gandhi or Anna who have been habitual deniers of food to this Vaisvanara for selfless causes have always withstood many days of fasting.


The 2nd concept is explained by Uddhalaka Aruni to his son ShwetaKetu in Chandogya Upanishad. Prana is sustained by water.  To test this Aruni tells Shwetaketu to forego food and subsist only on water. But there is a time limit for this. At the most a person can subsist  on water alone for  15 days only. On the 16th day, Aruni asks Shwetaketu to chant Vedic manthras. Shwetaketu could not recall the manthras. Aruni explains the reason for this. He says that the Purusha (Athman) has 16 kalas that help him to perform. Each day one kala diminishes with the denial of food to oneself. On the 16th day, the person is left with only one kala which is not enough for recalling or remembering anything. This means if a person goes without food for 16 days, he will lose his consciousness. He will faint or collapse.  This happens with a person who has a very regimented life style and a high level of inner strength. Annaji comes under this category. He had been telling that he would withstand the fast  for 2 weeks. This is the maximum limit as per Aruni's version also. I could not help connecting this view of the Upanishad with the way Annaji withstood the fast. With this background knowledge, I would say that it is mischievous on the part of rumor mongers  to say that the secret of his energy even after 12 days of fasting is that he had taken glucose water or water mixed with electrolytes.

The way the Prana shakthi is kept alert to tide over the crisis that is caused to the body by denial of food makes the fast a spiritual weapon and not a weapon of blackmail. Fasting is there in other religions too, but in Hinduism it is a weapon that helps for inner journey and also for outer good. Denial of food to oneself amounts to a kind of denial that acts as a punishment to others who err.


 In my own life, I have some vague images of my mother whom I lost at a very young age, resorting to this self denial to drive home a message to me, her child. She was inspired by Gandhian values and used to read out stories on Gandhian Ethos from the Tamil weekly 'Kalki' while feeding me. She was a strict disciplinarian that once when I made some mischief, she did not take food as a punishment to me! Until I realized my mistake and sought pardon from God by praying to Him in the Puja room in our house, she did not relent. By this she meant that I am answerable to God and for whatever wrong I do, she as one who nurtured me would have to bear the punishment. In reality, what she underwent became a punishment to me.

Thinking on these lines, what Anna did was not blackmail. It was a punishment for those responsible for making him fast. Their inner consciousness must have been nagging them all along that they would be responsible for whatever is happening to Anna due to his fast.

But in this Age of Kali, an additional dimension is needed to be present for the wrong doers to relent. It is the calculation of loss that makes them relent.

In the present episode of fast against corruption what had worked in the mind of the Congress managers are the political losses to be accrued. But they always make their strategies  BJP- centic. As long as BJP was dilly dallying on the support to Anna's fast and the finer points Jan Lokpal Bill, the Congress was not bothered about Annaji. But when the BJP went ahead with complete support to Anna, the Congress wants to take out the air from the BJP camp. Today we even heard a Congress leader telling that their handling of Anna's fast shows that they are the ones who care for fighting corruption!!

Corruption is going to be an issue in the next election and the party that catches up with the imagination of the vast middle class and the Youth will have an advantage in the hustings – and not those who make their strategy to counter the other's strategy. The latter category betrays lack of sincerity and commitment to cause.  It is time the BJP senses the pulse of the nation and its youth who constitute the majority of voters and take advantage of the upcoming Surya Dasa of the party's horoscope.




BK Chowla, said...

I dont know, but, in this case that seemed to be the only alternative left

Bala said...

Critics have kept on complaining about team Anna saying that they are blackmailing the govt, were having a hidden agenda, were adamant, not responding to others' points of view and what not.

If we look into How to Respond to Opposition Tactics, we can make out that they have more or less followed most of the tactics shown in this resource.

This is a part of a resource called 'The Community Tool Box' of the education dept of the University of Kansas, US, a huge on-line library containing more than 7000 pages of information for the understanding of community and their relationships.

One of the topics is 'advocacy' which is covered in this section.

I will briefly mention a few points :

Their 'About Us' page contains this paragraph :

'The Community Tool Box was created to help leaders bring about the changes they envision.

While the power of one is tremendous, that one needs help'.

The Power Of One : Anna Hazare

'He or she needs the knowledge, information, and tools to bring about those changes.

The Community Tool Box was developed to fill that gap and help thoughtful, informed citizens make their communities what they dream they can be.'

Team Anna gave him all the knowledge, information, tools and what not for his mission.

The opening paragraph has this content:

'In community work, there's almost always someone opposed to whatever it is you're doing.

Even if your goal is something everyone can agree on, there will be those who disagree with your methods for achieving it.

When your opposition starts fighting your efforts, it's best to be familiar with what tactics they might use to do so and how your group might most effectively respond.'

How very true.

Here everyone is agreeable on Anna's goal : 'India Against Corruption' but we were all witness to so much criticism for his methods.

On complaints about his agenda let us look at the following portion:

Set the agenda.

If you are meeting with the opposition, your organization (team Anna) should establish or influence the agenda.

This way, it will be your group (team Anna) that controls the meeting; you (team Anna), and not the opposition (govt), will have the chance to be on the offensive, which is always the stronger position to be coming from.

Further, if you allow the opposition to set the agenda, chances are good that some of the important points you wanted to discuss won't even be brought up.

The opposition will naturally use their "home court advantage" to talk about their strengths, rather than points they may be weaker on.

(Team Anna was always setting the agenda and they always had the upper hand so that they did not have the problem of their important points being ignored in the govt’s "home court advantage")

For full details readers can go through the chapters from 30 to 35.