Whose bandh is it anyway?

sandeep-sir-284x300By Sandeep Sahu

Ah, the sheer helplessness of the hapless citizen! The man who arrived in the state capital in the morning after a long-distance, all-night bus journey only to find that there are no taxis or auto rickshaws around to take him to his destination.The family that alighted from the train after a long journey from a faraway place to find that there is no way it can reach home. The air passenger who had to mount a rickshaw with family and all the baggage or cough up five times the normal fare for a taxi ride from the airport to his destination. The office-goer who found the road to his workplace taken over by hooligans masquerading as ‘workers’ of a political party. The road side tea vendor who saw his day’s earnings gobbled up by the monster called ‘bandh’.

There is little that a law-abiding citizen can do about it except to take it on the chin and bear it with a grin. After all, who will take on the hooligans that enforce the bandh with lathis and others who fire in the air to oppose them? Unlike other issues, s/he can’t even lock his ordeal in the mind and punish the party responsible for it at election time because every party is guilty of this crime. If the BJP did it in Bhubaneswar today, all other major parties – the BJD, the Congress, the Left parties – have done it in the city and the rest of the state and the country in the past. And coercion is the tool that all these parties have used to enforce their bandh.

By now, it is abundantly clear that a ‘peaceful bandh’ is a misnomer, a contradiction in terms. A peaceful bandh would mean workers of the political parties that is organizing it appealing to the people – commuters, office-goers, auto rickshaw drivers, shop owners, road side vendors and others – with folded hands and quietly retreating if they decline to oblige. But as anyone who has been out on the streets at bandh time knows, bandhs are enforced with lathis, stones and sheer brute force. Since the average citizen cannot resist hordes of hooligans roaming around with sticks, he has no option but to put up with the nuisance even if it means courting hardship or losing his livelihood for the day. Forcing people to stay indoors and shop owners to down shutters with the threat of violence – at times actually carrying out the threat – and then claiming that the bandh had received the ‘spontaneous’ support of the people and had been ‘total’ and a ‘grand success’ is ridiculous in the extreme.

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All this would have been understandable, if not forgivable, if bandhs achieved anything. The sheer meaninglessness of such exercises is beyond one’s comprehension. Let us consider the Bhubaneswar bandh called by the BJP today. The stated objective of the bandh was to force the resignation/ouster of BMC Mayor Ananta Narayan Jena in the wake of the sex scandal that he has been implicated in. Does the party really believe the bandh would force Jena to resign or the BJD supremo to sack him? Jena may yet resign or be sacked but not because of the BJP’s bandh. If and when it comes, it would be when the ruling party decides that his continuation in the post has become untenable and may harm the party’s interests in the run up to the Panchayat elections. The same is true of any bandh organized by any party on any issue. So why go to such lengths to inconvenience people and incur their wrath in the process?

In an eminently sensible judgment a few years ago, the Kerala High Court had banned all bandhs, a ruling that is locked up in litigation in the highest court. But it is time the Supreme Court stepped in and stopped this nuisance once and for all.After all, if the Supreme Court can order the mandatory playing of the national anthem at cinemas across the country and ask citizens to stand up while it is being played, it certainly can ban bandhs that cause the citizenry great misery.