Mera Bharat Bandh

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.


About t s sudhir & uma sudhir

Uma Sudhir and T S Sudhir are senior journalists, based in Hyderabad. Both work for NDTV. Uma is a Tamilian, who was educated in
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4 Responses to Mera Bharat Bandh

  1. Anand says:

    Excellent article, Sudhir. I grew up in an India where we used to have a bandh literally at the drop of hat. While a bandh in my school days was always “enjoyable” due to the extra day off, its uselessness and the damage it was doing to the Indian economy started sinking into me only as I grew up past my teen years

    I was hoping we’d moved on to better way of protests since the BJP, our nation’s principal opposition, had long promised to be a “progressive” party. And the hooligans of Left were shown their place in India’s polity over the previous 2 elections

    It seems I was wrong. Both the Left and BJP, out of sheer desperation, have resorted to the same old tactics that the average Indian of the 21st century has been completely loathe to. I’m surprised Times of India or other leading publications have not polled the average working person in India if he or she supported or opposed this bandh. I’d be shocked if the verdict was not overwhelmingly against this bandh

    China moved onto a progressive path only when it gave up its communist tendencies and the average Chinese started focusing on doing well for himself or herself and not waiting for the Communist government to bail them out. Indians could take a leaf out of the Chinese book. And the next time these political parties call for a “destructive” bandh, I’m hoping the Indians will rise to defeat these political parties and put them in place. After all, in a democracy, the government and other political parties are of the people and for the people, and the common people are not of or for these political parties

  2. Serenity Stupidity says:

    Here goes one more clarion call from you ! Amen ! Yes, its time we start realizing the value of progressive thinking.But, there is a strange conundrum : closure of shops, forcing daily wagers to go off road, paralyzing normal life and preventing people from going to work, all brazenly involve Law and Order problem. And, the political parties have so smartly complain of police excesses !

  3. Aparnaa says:

    Sudhir, very good piece. Very sad to know about the tea vendor. Such a shame. really!

  4. Manipur was a very nicely driven point. Though being a lady who has to continuously work hard to keep my family happy as prices soar, yet I understand that our leaders have hardly been bothered about the price rise. Just a few days back I saw a report where the wheat lies rotting on one of the railway platforms of Punjab, and the granaries of Punjab hardly been attended to properly. This state has a govt. led by BJP-SAD. I wonder why they have not been looking at this sheer wastage of wheat. Then so far as I remember, the communists have been the ruling party in Bengal for terms after terms, wonder why things are still in such a dismal state there. Congress anyways has been the sarkar of the common man (wonder how they define a Common Man,, probably a sketch from Laxman might be the right answer to this question). A bystander helpless man with a still expression waiting for someone to look his side – does this define a common man? In fact something very similar happened to tea vendor episode just outside my house as I was buying vegetables from a vendor, when some activists suddenly emerged and started shouting at this vendor. I had to ask this man to pull in his thela in my house verandah and it was only late in the evening that he came to collect his belongings. His vegetables were not sold, and he had suffered the bandh.

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