Was Bharat Bandh Really Needed ?
Left and BJP might tom tom that the July 5 Bharat Bandh was indeed successful and sought to deliver the message to the government that there is indeed unity among the left and the right as far as issues such as price rise is concerned.
But, what is indeed a cause of concern was the manner in which normal life was disrupted and as though that was not enough, party workers or at least those claiming to-be-so, damaged public property like buses little realising that this is the public money that is being lost and ultimately the cost of meeting these damages would have to come from the public itself which means further taxation and increase in prices.
Though since the 1960s Bandhs and Hartals have been the two major weapons used by political parties and trade unions to register their protest but in the years since then, most of these have turned violent and disrupted normal life bringing every activity to a grinding halt. Even as the opposition parties claimed that the bandh was to put forth the grievances of the aam admi who has been burdened with the price rise but calculations showed that the losses suffered due to the bandh in various states was about Rs 2735 crore.
But, the irony of the bandh was that it was really the lower classes who were the worst hit as was seen in the case of tea stall owners, vendors and mobile eateries in the capital.
There was the case of Prem Kumar an ice cream vendor whose daily income was about Rs 300 said: “today there were hardly any customers as everyone was worried something untoward might happen. The net result was I could only make about Rs 60 to 70”.
Similar stories were narrated by
the small food stall owners whose main customers were the daily wage earners and as Pappu the tea stall owner said: “on normal days I earn about Rs 350 to 400 serving tea to the autorickshaw drivers and others but today the roads were deserted and only a few students had tea and my income was down to about Rs 100.”
Though these men may not be accounted for but the fact that it is people like Prem and Pappu who are the real losers when such bandhs or hartals are called.
The irony is that organisations that declare bandhs claim it is a mechanism to protest the infringement and denial of citizen rights, whereas bandhs in themselves seem to be doing just that. Life is brought to a standstill, and why because of fear of harm to one’s life and property.
It is indeed interesting to see that people were by and large unhappy over the bandh as it disrupted normal life and it may be recalled here that recently Mumbai High Court punished BJP and Shiv Sena for declaring bandhs after the 1993 bombings.
It is all fine for the political parties to resort to such acts. But, what is indeed very annoying is that whenever there is a debate on price rise in Parliament which invariably takes place in almost every session, the very same parties are hardly able to get their members to be present to either participate or listen to the debate.
Such is the callousness of the members of political parties and so it can be truly said that it is time the political parties put an end to this hypocrisy of theirs and instead mobilised public opinion on the issues.
One wonders whether the leaders of the political parties spearheading the bandhs can if they are really concerned about price rise forego all those items whose prices have sky rocketed and ensure that people also refrain from purchasing them till the prices are brought down.
I would like to ask another question from these bandhwalas that if they are so concerned about rise in prices of petrol, can they do away with their cars and so called security staff and instead travel by bus or other modes of public transport and mobilise public opinion to dissuade people from buying cars and burning fuel.
Is there any serious attempt by these political parties to ensure no more automobile fairs are held in the country which is only encouraging more fuel consumption and not only that causing breakdown of infrastructure like roads which are unable to take the load.
Unfortunately, it is this attitude of the political parties, including the ruling Congress whose record on imposing bandhs is equally worse, that people too have become callous and indifferent to bandhs taking it as yet another holiday to sit back and enjoy themselves.
Ironically, the Bharat Bandh of the political parties came at a time when the World Cup football was on in South Africa, so it gave breather to football lovers to discuss the game leisurely without worrying about work.
Assam and West Bengal have been facing numerous bandhs over the decades which has led to a drastic fall in the states’ productivity, huge losses amounting to hundreds of crores to the public exchequers, and serious disturbance to the life of one and all. Moreover, the gigantic losses to the economy make this the worst fear in the minds of foreign investors.
Intellectuals from various spheres have come together in Assam to sponsor an advertisement in a newspaper against bandhs. Social activists, teachers, writers, journalists and others have joined hands in checking this social disease. They have also warned against declaration of bandhs, in which case they are willing to file a public
interest litigation in their High Courts.
Kerala High Court declared bandhs illegal in 1997; the matter then went to the Supreme Court which only reiterated the stand terming bandhs unconstitutional and calling upon the election commission to derecognise parties that declared them. This was later reinforced by Kolkata’s High Court.
But even the judiciary does not seem to have eradicated bandhs, which still remain an often-used form of protest being a democracy, it is ultimately left to the citizens themselves to impress upon political parties and other organisations that bandhs are disruptive, highly unpopular, and serve no purpose beyond disrupting normal life. So what do we do now?
By Sri Krishna