India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, will lead a daylong fast on Thursday in a tit-for-tat protest against the opposition, whose leaders were caught feasting moments before they launched their own hunger strike.
The rival protests are part of growing showdown between Modi’s ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) and the Congress party before national elections. Both sides have faced social media ridicule over their fasts.
Congress organised a five-hour hunger strike on Monday in a pre-emptive move against a BJP plan for a fast on Thursday.
But the party was left embarrassed after photos circulated on social media showing senior leaders tucking into chickpea curry served with a savoury dough shortly before the fast. Congress faced sarcastic comments on Twitter, while the BJP called their protest a “joke”.
With Modi poised to lead Thursday’s protest, the BJP has reportedly issued strict rules to its lawmakers, including a ban on eating at public places or being photographed munching treats before Thursday.
It is also shooing away street food vendors from the protest venue in New Delhi, according to the Mail Today daily. Congress has called the BJP’s plans “a farce of a fast”.
The BJP has said it will reject food for a day to show anger at the disruption of parliamentary business by Congress. Parliament sessions are regularly suspended amid unruly shouting matches.
Modi will fast to expose Congress’s “undemocratic style of functioning and pursuing divisive politics and [an] anti-development agenda”.
A strictly observant Hindu and teetotal vegetarian, Modi fasts every year for the Navratri festival – a nine-day ritual when he consumes only liquids during daylight hours. In a 2012 blog, Modi called his annual fast an act of self-purification.
Fasts in Indian politics were pioneered by Mahatma Gandhi as a moral weapon against the British empire as well as his compatriots. He also fasted as a means of penance when he felt he or the freedom movement had erred.
The British regarded the high-profile fasts as political blackmail but feared riotous consequences if Gandhi were ever to die during one.
The tradition continued after independence, and in 1952 the south Indian political activist Potti Sriramulu died after fasting for 58 days to campaign for the creation of the state of Andhra Pradesh.
The activist Anna Hazare catalysed a national anti-corruption movement in 2011 by fasting in Delhi. Critics continue to argue the tactic is coercive and a form of blackmail at best, and often a cheap political stunt.