Strike at bundhs

The sponsors of Monday’s all-India bundh would reasonably be happy. It had its desired effect in so far as the fact that it was near-total in many parts of the country. But there is absolutely no reason to believe that the bundh would yield the results that the common man would have expected from it. This might be just another instance of political parties cynically exploiting a compelling issue of public concern to suit their narrow ends. Much as the issue in question this time might be one that concerns the ‘aam aadmi’, he is unlikely to gain from the bundh. Actually, it imposes a cost on him by way of disruption of normal life. That is why in states like Kerala and West Bengal, where political parties take recourse to bundhs at the drop of a hat, courts have intervened to declare them as unlawful activity. Bundhs have ceased to provide solutions to the problem for which they are organised. The ends, therefore, cannot justify the means as the purpose is seldom served by the means adopted.

It is not that we should accept the Congress-led UPA government’s decision to decontrol petrol price or its intended move to do the same with diesel pricing or even last week’s hikes in kerosene and LPG price hikes. The upward price revision, as the government argues with some justification, might have been inevitable. The public may have to pay more when international crude prices sky-rocket.

The problem with the decision, however, is that the government still retains the power to intervene to reverse the price decontrol regime and return to the administered price mechanism. Do not be surprised if the Centre invokes this provision just before a major election with the sole objective of improving its prospects of winning. That is what the erstwhile BJP-led NDA did ahead of the 2004 parliamentary election. Every political party, at different points in time over the last 15 years, has been party to effecting hikes in fuel prices. So what are they opposing? However, there are things that political parties of all hues can do, provided they are sincere and honest about their commitment to the ‘aam aadmi’. All of them together and individually can initiate consultations to agree to forego a part of the huge taxes the governments collect from the sale of petroleum products. This will certainly help bring down fuel prices without taking recourse to bundhs.

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