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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Anatomy of the Bandh

Posted by: danish Ahmed 4:31 AM

Bandhs have been much talked about in recent days,especially because of the violence that have accompanied them. US Defense Analyst John Robb defines the bandh by naxalite as a form of warfare, a guerrilla tactic that allows the Maoists to increase their control over regions by means of system disruption.

While this definition may be very correct in the context of the naxalites adopting the concept, bandhs can also be defined as extreme forms of political protests. In fact, it is the perversion of the Gandhian concept of civil disobedience or "hartal", a legitimate political tool. However, unlike general strikes, bandhs are not voluntary, the shutdown of all forms of transport,communication and activities are enforced by protesters through coercion or the threat of it. This clearly goes against the rule of law and the Supreme Court of India has already banned it but every political party has been guilty of organizing them and in some instances even the ruling parties have called for bandhs or given tacit approval !

(originally posted in November 2009 )
This clearly implies that despite the apex court's ruling, for most people, there is much ambiguity regarding to the legality of the bandh. Some of the talk shows i have seen recently, on both national and local television channels indicate that like in most issues, the population is very clearly divided on this question. A section of the population is strictly opposed to any sort of interruption in our daily lives. True, there are many problems ailing India, most of them are rooted in poverty but disrupting economic activities would not in any way solve them, in fact, these acts further increase poverty. Predictably, this opinion belongs mostly to the urban middle class, the people who run the media. institutions, courts and even ministries. Unless of course they belong to the opposition camp in which case any and every act in defiance of the incumbent government becomes legitimate.

Then there are businessmen,intellectuals (another kind of businessmen) and mostly people who are yet to meet the other India. An India which houses(figuratively speaking,not real houses!) a third of world's poor, where the entire rural population depends upon agriculture but 85% of rural household are either landless or marginal farmers. India is emerging as a major world power but 42% of children suffer from malnutrition,in fact, the rate of malnutrition among Indian children is twice the rate of those belonging to sub-Saharan Africa. And how can we forget that a third of our sovereign territories is in the control of the Maoist militants.

Clearly, something has not gone right. There is widespread discontentment which is adding fuel to the devastating fire of Naxalite Movement and other groups including secessionists. One of the biggest disservice that all political parties have done, especially when in opposition is that they have neither taken up their causes nor shown them the appropriate form political protests. Successive governments too have shown scant respect towards Gandhian form of hartal and satyagraha which may have helped protesters turn more aggressive.

The very concept of "Bandh" is a perversion of the set of principles on the basis of which the right to protest against the government arises. It is an individual's right and prerogative and one of the most potent weapon against injustice. Enforcing it on others by coercion or the threat of it, contradicts the fundamental principle. In a manner, "bandh" can be seen as an insurrection of few hours, since the activists defy the law and order machinery,undermine state's authority by imposing their will on those who don't share their point of view even. Spontaneous "bandhs" by local groups, radicals such as the Naxalites is understandable since the former may not be aware of actual consequences and the latter is a state of war with the Indian state. But national parties calling for "bandh" knowing fully the concept and the consequences, is simply unacceptable.

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