On the 5th of July, the Bharatiya Janata Party along with the left parties called for a nation wide bandh to protest against the fuel price rise. As this was a nationwide bandh, again the discussion on the validity of bandh came to the fore. People criticised the bandhs and termed those as ‘obstacle in India’s progress’. But are bandhs so bad? Or we are interpreting these methods of protest in a wrong way thanks to the actions of the activists who implement their boss’ order at the ground level? Probably a discussion with open mind will show the way. Here is what i feel.
Historically, bandhs are the means of protest that the common man use to remind the authorities about its duty. May it be Gandhiji’s Non-Cooperation Movement or Quit India Movement, the basic fact about the bandhs is the involvement of the common people in it. Mass protests against Indira Gandhi during the time of emergencies was spontaneous with the support of the common men. The support was proved when people handed the Congress its biggest defeat ever in Indian elections. You may name it Bandh, strike, revolution or movement, but all have the same basic factors common i.e. the mass support.
The question that arises here is that why people are reluctant now to support the bandhs? May be it is due to the image. The actual figure of bandhs are very much different from its image that we perceive now-a-days. And that image is built thanks to the irresponsible actions of our politicians. After some of the popular bandhs yielded result and made the governments to bow to the people’s wishes, politicians tried to use the same tactics again and again. Politicians with their followers got a very easy method to be in the news. No one tried to solve issues by negotiating, rather a bandh, chakkajam, Rail Roko or strike was easy to organize. No matter which party remained in the opposition, they organized bandhs to oppose the govt. decisions. Probably this is where bandhs lost there appeal and bandhs without a proper cause distanced the common man from it. With pressure from the above to make such protests successful, karmis forced people to join the bandhs though the concept of democratic protests is always spontaneous participation of the public. That’s where the image changed and the image persists even now as we see bandhs even with a cause as a forceful attempt to dismantle public life.
With time changing, and with more youthful society this image is not a sign of democracy. That is the sole reason they oppose it. The dearth of mass leaders is another reason that people (read youth as 60% of India’s population is youth) are not inclined to join such protests. As an article in the Times Of India, 12th July 2010 says,
The success of any mass protest/movement broadly depends upon two factors: one, the credibility of the leadership leading the movement and, two, people’s support for the cause and the leadership. In case either is found wanting, the movement, in order to prove its non-failure, invariably turns coercive, often turning detrimental to the cause.
xxxAny successful mass movement needs a face to drive it. Pre-independence, we had Gandhi. The Emergency had JP. The rail strike had George Fernandes. Do we still have that one face that will inspire the trust of the masses? One needs to take into account that this is the age of living-room politicians people who are very good on television but have little support on the streets. Can this age still produce a ‘street-side’ politician and have the whole of India support him? More importantly, can this person bring the entire opposition together, at least on an issue that is critically important for the poor?
But does that make bandhs bad? It is still the only way we can lodge our protest. Can you suggest an effective alternative to it? Bandh is not about force nor about violence as is the public perception about it. Violence has no place in the original concept of Bandh. But at the same time violence is bound to happen during such protests. I am not justifying the violence but think practically. Every party worker wants their strike to become successful. In fact, success can be considered as personal achievement. It is almost impossible to control each and every person involved. Even during Gandhi’s peaceful non-cooperation movement, incident like Chauri Chaura happened. At the same time there are enough examples where the protesters have helped patients to reach hospitals because after all the protesters are also human beings. Why don’t we consider such incidents while talking about merits and demerits of the bandhs?
Bandhs are not bad, but the ways to implement it are bad for sure. There needs to be a change in the modus operandi of the bandhs. Minimal violence can be achieved by diminishing the use of force and this can be achieved by limiting the tim frame of such protests. 2-3 hours of bandh (with proper cause, of course) will be more effective as people will be able to support it without hampering their personal life. Political Parties need to realize that the protests they organize, at the end of the day, is successful only if people support it, not if they just claim it in a press conference. The petro fuel price rise affects people and Aam Admi feels ditched by the government. Still many did not support the Bandh. Leaders must go back to the old way of mass connect and door to door campaigning on the issues before resorting to a relatively easier way of bandh. That is the only way they can be good in the eyes of the public again. They, here, means both the politicians and the bandh.