Bharat in no mood for bandh

Bharat in no mood for bandh

Over the years, people have developed a disdain towards such bandhs, especially over causes that do not resonate with them personally.

There was a time when the entire country would come to a standstill when a political party or an organisation gave call for a Bharat Bandh. These days, such calls hardly get any response. The bandh called by 10 central trade unions affiliated to the Congress and Left parties on Wednesday in protest against the “anti-people” policies of the central government presented ample evidence of this, with the common man going about his business as usual. In Bengaluru, as in most other places, government and private offices, shops, schools and business establishments remained open and transport services including buses, Metro, taxis and autorickshaws operated as usual. While banking services and a few public sector establishments were partially affected in some parts of the country, the trappings of a nationwide shutdown were completely missing. 

Over the years, people have developed a disdain towards such bandhs, especially over causes that do not resonate with them personally. Besides, a general strike causes great inconvenience, affecting daily life, work, mobility and productivity. Bandhs are usually successful only when people fear that there could be violence or when the government extends its tacit support by withdrawing public transport and declaring a holiday for schools. In 1997, the Kerala High Court held bandhs illegal as it restricts the free movement of the citizen and his right to carry on his avocation. Though similar pronouncements by various other high courts that a bandh could not be forcibly enforced as it would affect the fundamental rights of the citizens were upheld by the Supreme Court, it is being followed more in the breach. Ironically, while frequent bandhs have become a thing of the past in most parts of the country, they continue to be a regular feature in Kerala.

While banning bandhs, the courts have also recognised the right to peacefully protest as a constitutional right. Bandhs can be a powerful tool of civil disobedience when they are voluntary and over a matter that involves national interest or on issues that affect a large section of the population, but imposing a forced shutdown is to be abhorred and curtailed, because besides being illegal they have a disastrous consequence on the economy. In 2004, the Supreme Court had imposed a fine on BJP and Shiv Sena for organising a bandh in Mumbai. Though the public has given a thumbs-down to bandhs, punitive action should become the norm as they serve as a strong deterrent.  At a time when various options are available to seek redress to grievances, political parties and trade unions should not be allowed to hold the country to ransom.

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