Bandhs are an Indian disease
Words like bandh (city shutdowns), hartal, (strike by workers) are now in the English dictionary. I am not sure if gherao (surrounding a person in power to make demands) is in the dictionary, but it’s certainly in the wiki. Ordinarily we can be proud of the fact that words from an Indian language have become a part of a global language like English, but in this case, we needn’t be proud because of the nature of the words themselves.
Bandhs and hartals are particularly an Indian disease refusing to become extinct. Why extinct, they seem to be increasing in intensity. I had foolishly imagined that they were on the decline because I see few bandhs happening in Mumbai today, unlike a decade or so ago. The bandh culture is on the wane I told myself, particularly as in 1998 the Supreme court had made bandhs illegal and in 2004 had even punished the BJP and Shiv Sena (political parties) for organizing a bandh in Mumbai to protest the bomb blasts in the city.
Unfortunately the term bandh is being used interchangeably with a hartal or strike. A workers’ strike or any protest should be limited to the organisation or body against whom protestors have a grievance, but a bandh affects all citizens and can last even up to two days at a time. It paralysis normal life, public transport and everyone is forced to remain indoors, causing great loss and inconvenience to the people. People can’t reach hospitals on time and urgent work is interrupted.
The bandh culture is a peculiar hodgepodge of democracy and communism. Communist regimes do not allow such nonsense, but a democracy allows freedom, a freedom misused by the communists to impose on the common people. It is ridiculous that bandhs are actually used to tom-tom a “people’s cause” completely disregarding the fact that it is the common man who suffers as public transport grinds to a halt, establishments close out of fear of violence and people dare not venture out, again due to fear. And ofcourse the country and the state loses out in a big way…money and prestige as well. As for the long-term effects, very damaging indeed.
Not that political parties care. They don’t even care that bandhs are illegal. The Supreme court has intervened however, in the recent past. A state bandh was declared in Tamil Nadu and the court rapped the DMK on the knuckles for supporting it.
The silver lining
However, people in power are speaking out. It was refreshing to hear the West Bengal Chief Minister (Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) talk against bandhs and strikes. He said:
As the party calls for a bandh, which is of no use to us or the country, I keep mum. I won’t keep mum any more.
Other communists have talked about it. A Kerala MP A P Abdullakutty had done so too.
The MP from Kannur, the CPI(M)’s stronghold in Kerala, had said that the bandh as a protest mode had lost its edge and had only alienated people.
Despite knowing that freedom of speech is not valued in the communist cadres, and that any variant opinion, even if it comes from a senior politician, will be squashed, these statements hold a ray of hope for the future.
As for the communist party, it looks like they might force Buddha to eat his words. Not only is no one supporting him, this is what is being said:
He did not mean to say what he said. That is our feeling. He will clarify it soon,” said a senior CPM leader.
(Photograph from Rediff.com)
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