Bharath Bandh

May 31, 2012

Disclaimer : I am not affiliated to any political parties and I am not writing this on their behalf. Expressed here are my personal opinion on the matter at hand. If there is any discrepencies in the data provided then please do point it out for me to correct them


The title is pretty familiar when it comes to Indian Politics. A pan India “bandh” is more of a political tool to fulfil populist agenda of certain political institutions. When we look at the real meaning of this process, it means complete shutting down of the country and bringing it to its knees. Often said to be employed when the crusaders are fighting for the oppressed and helpless people of India, it mainly affects these exact same people in the worst possible manner. Besides, the reason behind completely stopping the entire nation must be quite revolutionary rather than just a populist measure as is the case for today’s bandh called by NDA in protest of increase in the Petrol price. Now the already harassed public are being harassed in yet another manner. Sure, there is also support from a section of people who are on the street, but how genuine is that support is highly questionable

It was in 1997 that Kerala High Court had ruled that these type to “bandhs” are illegal. That was the first time that political parties recieved a blow to their populist tactics. Of course this was challenged in the Apex court to which the Supreme Court in 1998, upholding the Kerala HC verdict, said that these “bandhs” are “illegal and unconstitutional” means for protest. The rational behind this is simple, it infringes the rights of other people and it is also mentioned in Constitution that gathering must always be peaceful and this we must extend to protests as well. Besides, Art 19(3) and 19(4) provides reasonable restrictions on such rights, for gathering and forming associations and unions, as interest of sovereignty and integrity of the country, public order or morality. Besides, these “bandhs” affect the most supreme of the Fundamental Right, Right to Life and Liberty (Art 21) which is affected since most people will be denied the opportunity to go to work and get access to food and medical help thereby fundamentally affecting their lives and liberty. Even without the technicality behind the verdict, it is easy to see the logic in it and yet these “bandhs” go unabated.

Even after the verdict, there have been many occasions when the Judiciary is openly ignored and the Judiciary too has stepped out and tried to protect the rights of citizens. In 2002 the Supreme Court went a step further and declared all forced hartals illegal too. The idea behind this was that we must not give into coercion or force, i.e., we must not stop our day-today lives just because a goon is threatening us to participate in a protest. In July 2004, the Bombay High Court told the Shiv Sena and the BJP to pay a fine of Rs 20 lakh, for organising a Mumbai bandh in July 2003 to protest against the Ghatkopar blasts. It was estimated that the bandh had cost the city Rs 50 crore. This had caused a lot of stir and was a slap on the face to illogical protests. In November the same year, the Calcutta High Court declared illegal and unconstitutional, the Bangla Bandh called by the Trinamool Congress. The court directed the party to withdraw the call and publish the decision in the media. By this time it was clear that these political parties were not lending their ears to what Judiciary had to say. I think such acts of defiance by these political parties had to be taken as contempt of court but that was not done. Anyway, in the year 2006, the Kerala High Court asked the Election Commission to deregister political parties calling bandhs. In June 2007, the Supreme Court took notice of the bandh called in Delhi on the Gujjar issue and described the government’s inaction as a ‘national shame’. The bandh cost the national capital region around Rs 700 crore. The July 2010 “bandh” called by opposition for the same reason of fuel price cost the economy an estimated Rs 13,000 crore loss when the “bandh” lasted for 12 hours. According to a March 2011 report of Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) the state of West Bengal was said to be losing Rs 8,000 crore every year due to “bandhs”. Incidentally, West Bengal is called the “Bandh Capital” of India as it sees many such protests every year.

All the above data shows one thing very clearly, such type of “bandh” is not exactly helping us as much as we want it to. The ICC report went on to show the magnitude of the loss in West Bengal. The conservative estimate of Rs 8,000 crore is 2.5% of the net state domestic product of Bengal. This is close to 5% of the total debt stock of the state government of Rs 2,00,000 crore and 50% of the interest payment on debt by the state every year. I hope the magnitude is apparent now with these figures. So, we can expect the same kind of damage after today’s “bandh”. Apart from the loses due to stoppage of work and transport, there is also the property damage by rowdy crowd. Three buses have already been torched in Bangalore and one allegedly in Hubli, they have also stoned a lot of buses and causes damage. These buses come from the money paid out of public pocket and I dont understand how these stupid people dont realise that. How hard can it be? They say they torched the bus to get the authorities to stop the bus service. Is it really necessary to burn the bus? cant you just block the road while you are disrupting the lives of people? Some people even harm the private properties, vehicles parked on the side of the road. When people buy a car or a bike, they have emotional attachment to it since most of the times it comes from their first salary or it will be a gift. But these mindless brutes just turn these vehicles into wrecks as we have seen in many protests previously. I sometimes feel such people join the protest only to plunder everything in their way without even knowing what they are protesting. So, in the end, these political parties call for “bandhs” even after being aware of all these facts which is “illegal and unconstitutional”

Just to highlight the hypocrisy behind this I will tell you one more tale. Remember the great crusader against graft? Anna Hazare? Out of all the negative publicity one that was prominent towards the declining peak of the protest was how the methods employed by him was “unconstitutional”. These were the same methods employed by Gandhi during the freedom struggle. At that time it was justified by the fact that British did not and would never have had the best interest of Indians and therefore needed to be ousted. After Independence, such methods were not to be employed as was said even by Dr. Ambedkar. But, was the method employed by Anna Haraze as extreme as that of Gandhi? I dont think so. There was no widespread non-cooperation or civil disobedience in case of Anna Hazare. Besides, the ineptitude of successive governments has made it clear that such extreme methods are necessary to move the government to do its job honestly. When all these political parties condemned Hazare of employing unconstitutional means and holding the government hostage, what exactly are the same politicians doing right now? Ignoring multiple rulings of High Courts and Supreme Courts and trampling on the constitution to achieve what? Bangalore has the highest price for Petrol and is being governed by BJP, a Key partner of NDA which has called for this “Bandh”. Why is the price so high? because of the high taxes. And what did they do to alleviate the burden on the public? They have proposed to shut down the country and incur more loses which will be later paid up by the same public. That is what is the definition of Hypocrisy.

In conclusion, I call everyone to know your country and your law. Know your system before you blame it or say it cannot be changed or improved or saved from ultimate doom. A system is only as good as its components put together and that is us. Dont let anyone eye wash you by saying that the fuel price hike is necessary due to loses incurred and “bandh” organised in the protest of this fuel price hike is in best interest of “common man”. A very distorted term this “common man”. It is he who truly wields the power in the system of Democracy and yet it is he who is being marginalised today and the tragedy is not that. The real tragedy is that he himself is responsible for this situation that he is in. A true transformation can never be provided by one person acting as a leader and everyone as sheep and following him. A true transformation comes from being aware, individually and collectively. That alone will lead to liberation.