I walked down the street today. There were no auto rickshaws, no taxis, and no cars. Shops were shut. Footpaths were deserted. The silence, so uncharacteristic of India, was almost eerie.
It wasn’t only my neighbourhood that was like this. The scene was replicated all over India. Hundreds of flights were cancelled, and trains and bus services were suspended.
Usually, India doesn’t stop for anyone. So, what could have possibly happened? A number of political parties united in India to enforce a Bharat Bandh — a nationwide strike — to protest against rising fuel prices. Activists blocked transport routes, and vandalism and violence ensured for those who didn’t comply. The situation in Mumbai was quite severe, despite the police taking the precaution of arresting 1,000 likely trouble makers days earlier. Around 100 buses were stoned and burned in Mumbai, and more in other parts of the country.
There are a number of things that bother me about the bandh. Firstly, it’s against the law but nothing is done about it. The Supreme Court declared this type of strike to be “illegal and unconstitutional” over a decade ago in India. But no one enforces the ruling! Secondly, it’s the “common man”, whose interests the strike is supposed to support, that suffers the most. Daily wage earners and people in small business received no income today. Thirdly, the disrespect for public property is appalling. Why is it that people meticulously care for what they own in this country, but have little regard for what’s not “theirs”?
But the real issue is whether the bandh will have any positive impact. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has estimated that the bandh has caused a loss of around 3,000 crore rupees. And Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has unquestioningly ruled out a roll back in fuel prices.
Really, what the Bharat Bandh is all about is a matter that has high importance in India — the pursuit and projection of power. The power game is being played. Politicians like to project that they seek power not for power itself, but for a cause separate from themselves. And as the saying goes… if you’ve got it, flaunt it. And in India, if you don’t, then acquiesce to it.
© 2010, Diary of a White Indian Housewife. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.
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