Congress leaders announce parallel fast at Sabarmati Ashram against Modi's ‘lies and misrule'

Even as the former Chief Minister, Shankarsinh Waghela, and Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhvadia on Thursday announced a parallel programme to counter Chief Minister Narendra Modi's three-day “sadbhavana mission” (goodwill) fast, danseuse Mallika Sarabhai, who is a strong critic of Mr. Modi, said she would observe a “sadbhavana” of her own, feeding poor children during the three days.

Jagruti Pandya, wife of the slain former Minister of State for Home, Haren Pandya, is also going on a day's fast on Saturday. Mr. Modi announced that he would go on fast from September 17, his birthday.

While Mr. Waghela and Mr. Modhvadia said their fast at the Sabarmati Ashram, which would be at least three hours longer than Mr. Modi's, was against the latter's “lies and misrule”, Ms. Sarabhai said that “sadbhavana” could be better spread through feeding the poor, for whom “fasting” was a part of life.

Ms. Sarabhai said that with her limited resources she would be able to feed about 200 children two square meals a day for three days. She would select three different localities in Ahmedabad where the “poorest of the poor” lived and arrange for their food.

“I know one day's food is not going to make much of a difference in their lives, but at least the message will go that the best way to spread the ‘sadbhavana' [in the name of which] Mr. Modi is claimed to be fasting, is going amongst the poor and providing them with meals,” she said. More could be fed if more funds were donated, she said.

No sooner did Mr. Waghela and Mr. Modi announce their decision to fast than a delegation of lawyers supporting the BJP marched to the Ashram demanding that the authorities not allow the Gandhian institution to be turned into a political arena and to refuse permission to the Congress leaders to fast in the Ashram premises. The Ashram's Managing Trustee, Amrut Modi, however, told the rallyists that no permission had been sought to use the premises for fasting and the Ashram authorities were helpless if anyone sat outside the premises on the public road.

The two Congress leaders said their plan was to sit outside the Ashram premises and conduct the fast not under the banner of the Congress but as “citizens of Gujarat”. All those who , irrespective of political affiliations, felt pained at Mr. Modi's “five-star political gimmick of fasting” would be welcome to join their camp. The party has prohibited the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Shaktisinh Gohil, who recently suffered a heart attack, from joining the fast on health grounds.

Both the Congress leaders and Ms. Sarabhai estimated that Mr. Modi's fasting at the centrally air-conditioned sprawling exhibition hall of the Gujarat University would cost the State Exchequer about Rs.6 crore per day, what with the government's plans to bring thousands of people from all over the State in State transport buses to show solidarity with the Chief Minister. The university charged Rs.5 lakh rent per day for the exhibition hall constructed recently at a cost of about Rs.30 crore but university vice-chancellor Parimal Trivedi said no rent would be charged for Mr. Modi's fast, “which was for a great cause of the State.” Urban Development Minister Nitin Patel, however, said the State Exchequer would bear all charges — including the rent of the hall, whether or not levied by the university.

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