Siddhartha Kumar –
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi led top ministers and party lawmakers in a day-long tit-for-tat fast on Thursday, in an attempt to shame the opposition for gridlock in the national legislature.
The January 29-April 6 legislative session saw very little business accomplished.
It was often characterised by lawmakers shouting each other down or by the opposition disrupting proceedings, forcing repeated adjournments.
The opposition Indian National Congress seized on the gridlock this week, organising a five-hour hunger strike on Monday to protest the “non-functioning” parliament, while also decrying caste and sectarian violence.
But the party was left red-faced after photos circulated on social media showing Congress leaders feasting in a restaurant shortly before they launched Monday’s hunger strike.
That gave Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a chance to seize the moral high ground.
“I will be on a fast, but I will continue my work,” Modi said ahead of Thursday’s fast, before travelling to the southern state of Tamil Nadu to inaugurate a defence exhibition.
An estimated 2,000 BJP lawmakers, from both federal and state levels, joined Modi in the protest action, the Times of India daily reported.
In an audio message, Modi urged party functionaries to participate and “expose the handful of people who throttled democracy.”
“Those who couldn’t gain power in 2014 [the last national elections]don’t want the country to move forward.
They didn’t let the parliament work for a single day.
They killed democracy and we will observe a fast to expose them before people,” Modi said.
Several ministers were travelling to other cities or their home states for the nationwide protests.
To save itself from the embarrassment faced by Congress, BJP has reportedly issued strict instructions to its members, including a ban on eating at public places and on being photographed at restaurants ahead of the fast.
The rival fasts are part of the growing tussle between the parties ahead of national elections in 2019.
But both the ruling BJP and Congress have drawn ridicule by Indians on social media for playing competitive “fast” politics. — dpa