On Saturday, there was a curious kind of ‘protest’ held for about three hours at the JP roundabout opposite Patna’s Maurya Hotel. A dozen or so people sat fairly quietly under a capony, ‘gently’ raising their voices against the growing intolerance and polarisation in India. The banner they huddled under was, “Bihar Intellectual Forum.”
This was a ‘symbolic fast’ spearheaded by Dr Padmasha Jha and Dr M A Ibrahmi, and was attended by a few invited ‘intellectuals’, of whom I (I was bemused to discover) was one! My misspelled name was also there on the press release (spelt Frank Krichayan in Devnagiri). Dr Jha did a stint at the Bihar legislative Council, and Dr. Ibrahimi is a retired IAS officer and vice chancellor, and as the SMS invitation I got helpfully pointed out had retired at ‘Chief secretary rank’.
Padmasha Jha was holding forth on behalf of the motley group of individuals, promising follow up action and the participation of several thousand people in a rally after the elections are over. The few ‘press representatives’ asked the usual inane and rehashed questions such as, “Why didn’t intellectuals protest before this?”
Of course, as Professor Shanker Dutt pointed out, the intelligentsia of Patna have always stimulated and participated in activity that promoted unity and diversity, and have done so creatively throughout the years. He also made the point that some of us were there, not for the so-called symbolic fast or merely to raise voices against intolerance, but to lend our support to a group that advocates amity, brotherhood, peace and the right to be different in a pluralistic society.
One of the local rabble-rousing TV channels who came a-calling was very clear. They wanted just one sound byte and that was, ‘What impact would this ten person ‘fast’ have on the larger political picture, would it sway the electorate?’ They only wanted Jha’s answer, not Ibrahimi’s. It was clear that whatever she had to say would be shoved into some political angle covering the assembly elections.
All in all, was this really an exercise in futility? What’s the point of a ‘symbolic fast’ being held between breakfast and lunch-time? Didn’t the dynamic duo of Jha and Ibrahimi realise the falseness of this? This was obviously a publicity stunt, with some sort of political overtones, and one felt a bit foolish and sorry for having been conned into participating.