While India was slow to catch up with the process of Industrialisation, however it was not slow in adopting Bandh (Strike Action) as a useful protest mechanism. Bandh became a strong weapon of Political protest during the struggle for Independence, and Mahatma Gandhi used it to the fullest extent during the Non-Co-operation movement. The objective of bandh those days was to stifle economic activity and also to indicate that one can’t oppress people of a country to do what it doesn’t want to. It had it’s effect and definitely made the then British Government take notice of such protests. Though the point to remember is, even those days response to Bandh was never 100%. India those days was divided between ‘British Controlled Presidencies’ and ‘Princely states’ and Princely states had their own method of functioning quite different than rest of the country.
Post Independence one would have thought that, the need for such weapons of protest like bandh wouldn’t have a place (except for the Labor/Working class) against a Government that was supposed to be By the, Of the and For the People of India. Yet, Bandhs continue to dominate the political landscape even till date and remains one of the key weapons of protest for the opposition parties against the existing Government and their policies, whether in the state or at the Centre. Some political parties are notorious for indiscretely call of bandhs without even considering the effectiveness, political mileage or effect on common man.
I think that Bandh as a form of protest or as a form of civil disobedience has outlived it’s expiry date. It’s another example of how the Indian political class is losing touch with the common man they claim to represent. Also Bandhs are no longer democratic in nature. Today when parties call for a bandh they also ensure that it is a success by various means, as it effects their political reputation. So it is not a question of ideology or allowing scope for ideological disagreement. This Intolerance towards the alternate voice is dangerously for a democracy. Today when bandhs are called by any party this is what transpires among the ordinary common man
- Firstly people check which parties are calling the bandh
- Next they check whether they are in a state where any of the parties calling the bandh is the ruling party or has significant clout
- If the party is ruling party or has clout in the state then the response is to stay indoors to avoid trouble
- Organisations indicate or instruct their people to stay away from office or work from home or reach office before the bandh starts and leave after it is over
So Bandhs might appear to be successful at the outset, but in the truest of sense neither does it help increasing the reputation of the Parties calling it, nor does it reflect the support of the people for the cause. On the contrary it affects the daily wage workers, it affects economic transactions causing losses to the Government exchequer and any attempts to make up for the losses would mean either higher prices or higher taxes which in a way hurts the common man back again.
It is interesting to note here that, The Constitution of India makes no mention of Bandh/Strike and the Supreme Court of India had banned Bandhs as a form of political protests in the late 90s. Yet our political class with least regards to the Constitution or the rule of the Land continue to call bandhs indiscreetly. Yes under trade union laws the Working class is allowed to call for a Strike against oppression of the Proprietors of an company, however we have seen it also often gets misused as, trade unions also have political backing.
Critical study of the Indian political system carried out by people outside of India has led it to be called a Dysfunctional Democracy for various reasons, this even while we continue to be proud of being the largest democracy of the world. I am not surprised with the findings of such critical studies; Where there is paranoia about the alternate voice or intolerance towards any hint of disagreement, there democracy is murdered. While a lot of thinking is required to get the democratic structure back on track, at the minimal, we should look at immediately stopping archaic and self defeatist methods of Political Protest