By T S Sudhir
Six years after the country dumped the BJP and its `India shining’ slogan, the party with a difference shut down Bharat today. With support from the Left, the country’s official bandh-experts, and an assortment of regional parties, the weekend was extended by a day as shopkeepers, traders, small vendors, big companies were forced to shut shop. Schools and colleges had already declared a holiday and a few stones showered on glasspanes sent the public transport off the road in most places.
True to form, BJP-Shiv Sena workers damaged more than 75 BEST buses in Maximum city, Mumbai. Ditto by opposition party activists in Andhra Pradesh. Who suffers? The average Mumbaikar and the guy in Karimnagar who will have to repeatedly petition the RTC for months at end now, to get a bus service back on the route.
In Delhi, BJP workers forced those who kept their shops open to down shutters. In Hyderabad, Telugu Desam workers did not spare even chemist shops. Perhaps they thought it was an `illness bandh’ as well.
But to me, the most terrible image of the day came from Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. Where half a dozen TDP workers decided to target their ire on a tea vendor who had apparently dared to not pay heed to their diktat. The man, owning a tiny makeshift stall, was busy making tea for passersby early morning when the goons, yes, goons in the TDP yellow, threw away the bottle containing sugar, chucked the milk and milk container and finally the box with the tea dust. One of them then menacingly wagged his finger at the vendor, warning him to support their battle for the common man of Bharat.
The tea vendor wasn’t the only one who broke ranks. West Bengal chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee was among the 17 people who attended work at the state Secretariat in Kolkota. Of course, the average Babu at Writers’ building stayed away; the staff strength there is 5200.
Kerala of course, needs only an excuse to shut down. In Hartal’s own country, no bus plied in any part of Kerala, with the state’s LDF government actively encouraging putting the average Malayalee to maximum inconvenience. Today’s bandh came just eight days after the previous hartal on the same issue in Kerala.
The statistics of loss to the industry are mindboggling. Kerala 150 crores, Karnataka 2000 crores, Bengal 500 crores. Entire Bharat may have lost 20000 crore rupees. But that is of no relevance to the political class that was clearly out to make political capital.
My colleague in Guwahati, Kishalay Bhattacharjee asked on facebook why the opposition that had called a Bharat bandh for a fuel hike of 3 rupees, had raised no voice of protest when it sold for 100 rupees more in Manipur from April-end because of the economic blockade. Ironically, Manipur did not observe a bandh today, fed up as they are with bandhs and because these political parties have no strength in Manipur. Besides, what would they tell the people? That 100 rupees for you is okay, three rupees for the rest of India is not?
As the day ended, the opposition gloated over the bandh’s success. How the common man took part voluntarily. How the people-unfriendly government `arrested’ all opposition leaders. Of course, all of them timed their arrests either before lunch or after lunch.
Chandrababu Naidu threatened that if the Centre did not roll back the fuel hike, his party will intensify the stir. This is the same person who as a `progressive’ chief minister spoke of economic reforms and opposed subsidies to ensure fiscal health. In August 2000, when the Left protested hike in electricity tariff, the police opened fire killing three persons. Obviously, political compulsions and two consecutive electoral defeats have meant Naidu can no longer walk the talk.
Politicians of course, cribbed that the middle class and the upper middle class is largely unresponsive to such bandh calls. And the poor man does not want to lose a day’s wage so he keeps away as well. What happens on the ground then is a medley of politicians and their cronies, stepping out of their Sumos, Tata Safaris, Innovas, Scorpios and Hyundai Santros, to create a racket for TV cameras.
Like TDP’s Teegala Krishna Reddy, the former mayor of Hyderabad, who ran from one end of the street to the other, almost comically, surrounded by three hefty musclemen, to stop buses from plying, before all of them were bundled into a police van. In a political system that operates significantly out of TV studios, the 21 inch screen has become the karmabhoomi for most. An exercise in tokenism.
The monsoon session is expected to begin soon in most assemblies and in Parliament. Instead of advertising to the world that India shut down for 12 hours, may I suggest there be meaningful debates, with the same politicians doing some serious homework and offering suggestions on how India can manage the fuel bill. There can be few challenges more engaging than giving a tip or two in economics to Bharat’s economist prime minister.