Full Marx, Half Gandhi: Vital Stats of a Protest
In India’s national capital, New Delhi, left-wing students are waging a protest against Hindu right-wing BJP government’s clampdown on their leaders. They are on hunger strike, deploying the best of weapons from Gandhian armoury, the hunger strike.
A series of photographs released by striking students explain how it took a toll on their health. Though Gandhi is not a poster-boy for the raging left, Gandhian repertoire of self-denial is at play in Indian left protest plans. As Oxford scholar Faisal Devji indicates, non-attachment to material possessions is an important routine for Gandhian political missionaries (satyagrahi) and Gandhi used ascetic practices like fasting to bring the common man and woman into the fold of public life.
The language of the left is an attempt to appropriate the experiences of the famished sections of Indian population. Activists on hunger strike demonstrate their ability to relate to the imagination of shirtless Indians. “Utopian social collectives and visions of the future serve to justify a particular process of radical bourgeois self-making in postcolonial India”, argues Uday Chandra, Professor at Georgetown University and an expert on contemporary left movements.
Gandhi popularised the idea that intimate practices, especially body practices expressed sincere association with the masses. Gandhi welded ascetic language and popular politics together, and this connection was soon reinterpreted by Indian Marxist practitioners. “For instance, advertising weight loss, especially during political campaigns, would be an indubitable sign of devotion to activism” says Jean-Thomas Martelli, King’s College London Scholar specialising on student movements. In a recent piece, he argues that the politics of the radical left is inseparable from the practice of political asceticism (Martelli’s article).
At a time of weight-conscious Generation Kardashians, the activists in this leafy campus are shedding kilos for a brighter tomorrow, and right to tell the truth, in black and white.