Chandrasekhar Rao: A New State From the “Fast Unto Death” and a Lesson for Christians

Christians who admire the non-violent protest methods of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King should consider this:

Wonder what Mahatma Gandhi would have made of this. India’s newest state, its 29th, came about with a local politician, Chandrasekhar Rao, using the Gandhian protest of “fasting unto death”.

It ended 11 days later with the central government surrendering to his demand to create Telengana from Andhra Pradesh, the southern Indian state of which Hyderabad is the capital. It could be one of the more foolish decisions in independent India’s history, not because of the decision, but the manner in which it was made.

More astonishingly, Rao had resigned as party chief this June following his Telangana Rashtra Samithi party being defeated in the parliamentary elections, after campaigning for a Telengana state. After democracy chucked out his ambitions, hijacking Gandhi’s weapons has worked. He is likely to be the first chief minister of the new state.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his cabinet stand accused of blinking under pressure and surrendering to political blackmail. Caught between choices of showing determined leadership, a three decades-long spluttering demand for a Telengana state and the devil and the deep blue sea, Manmohan’s government could have turned to democratic relief, such as a referendum.

But on December 9, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) ordered the process to carve out Telengana – possibly the first province in the world to have been born on account of a solitary man voluntarily going off foodstuffs.

The “fast unto death” was a centrepiece of Gandhi’s non-violent protest method.  That’s something that Christians (such as fans of the Manhattan Declaration) may have forgotten.  But Gandhi used it for a far different purpose than Chandrasekhar Rao:

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi started his Satyagraha or “truth force” movement in South Africa in 1907 to successfully protest an apartheid law. The “Asiatic Act” or Registration Law discriminated against people of Asian origin, from restricting their movements to not recognizing non-Christian marriages.

Gandhi brought his Satyagraha method to India in 1915 and it led the country’s struggle for independence in 1947. Among the many Satyagraha ground rules is the dictate that it “must always provide a face-saving ‘way out’ for opponents. The goal is to discover a wider vista of truth and justice, not to achieve victory over the opponent.”

If there’s one lesson that the last thirty years of Christian political activism in the U.S. should have taught everyone, it’s that the line between acts of conscience and political grandstanding can be very thin.  But those who have led the crusade for the “moral majority” have been so successfully demonised–even within the Christian community–that learning substantive lessons from their mistakes can be difficult.  One of those lessons is that we may get results, but the blowback may negate them.

But not learning lessons from history is an American pastime, and we all know what happens when history repeats itself.

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