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Post Gandhi: Less Strenuous Political Protesting

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And by coincidence, the news of the Senate vote reached Indians on the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth. Of course, he's the man who pioneered nonviolent protest as a political weapon. The art of political protest is the subject of the latest letter from our South Asia correspondent Philip Reeves. Reeves begins with an incident involving the new leader of Pakistan and a certain American vice presidential candidate.

PHILIP REEVES: Asif Ali Zardari is supposed to be shedding his old image as a dodgy playboy. He's recasting himself as a wise and somber figure worthy of his new job as president of Pakistan. When he was introduced to Sarah Palin in New York the other day, he seems to have forgotten this. Zardari activated his dazzling high-voltage smile. He didn't know the TV mikes would pick up his words as he smoothly informed Alaska's governor that she's gorgeous.

Of course, Zardari's flirting upset some of the mullahs back home in Pakistan. But there were also others who weren't too happy. Some of Pakistan's women have been threatening to protest. I wonder what they'll do. Political protest in South Asia isn't what it used to be. Mahatma Gandhi really did walk hundreds of miles when he defied British colonial taxes on salt by trekking to the sea. And when Gandhi went on hunger strike, he really did starve himself.

These days South Asians still protest in the same ways, but some of them have made, well, a few adjustments. Take for example this summer's so-called long march in Pakistan. This was a mass protest by Pakistani lawyers. To be fair, the lawyers did take to the streets for more than a year demanding the restoration of Pakistan's sacked chief justice. This time, though, the lawyers didn't march. They drove, many of them in comfy, air-conditioned SUVs. This month, a Pakistani religious party is planning what it calls a train march to protest U.S. missile strikes. Yes, that's right. You just get on a train.

The other day, Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was hospitalized in India with a stomach problem. His aide said that while he was in the hospital, the great man and his followers would fast for peace for 12 hours. Isn't that just missing lunch? But they did a lot better than some hunger strikers I've seen during my time in South Asia. There was the group of women from India's Congress Party celebrating an unexpected victory at the polls. We were outside the New Delhi residence of their party president, Sonia Gandhi. Sonia had just decided she would not be prime minister after all. The women were urging her to change her mind. In fact, they said, they'd starve themselves to death unless she did so. They cheerfully laid down on the road forming a carpet of chatty, outraged humanity and prepared to die. An hour later, when lunchtime came around, they disappeared, never to return. Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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