Bharat Bandh: A Tool for Civil Disobedience or a Whiplash of Confusion?
Empty roads as a result of Bharat Bandh. (Photo by ANI)

The opposition today comprising parties led by the Congress called for a country-wide protest against rising fuel prices from Rajghat as part of the 'Bharat Bandh'. The event was to mark the burden of escalating costs of petrol, diesel and cooking gas, as mentioned by Congress leader Randeep Surjewala. The demand suggests that petrol and diesel should be brought under GST, by which oil prices could drop by about Rs 15 to Rs 18.

This is not the first instance when the country has come to a standstill due to a bandh. The burgeoning curfew situation affects day to day activities for many. For example, even workers' strike in an organisation can cause a humungous loss for the establishment. Imagine the scale of a damage when an entire nation goes for a strike. Some might call it a peaceful way of underscoring a subject of national concern since in a democracy, we have the liberty of observing protests against the government's workings.  But we cannot ignore the havoc and confusion it can create even on a minor scale.

Bandh as Civil Disobedience

A bandh expects the general public to take a day off, much like a holiday, which in turn affects the shopkeepers who prefer to shut down shops to avoid loss of goods and property. Public transport for that matter is highly susceptible to mob rage and choose to stay off roads. Despite being a powerful means of civil disobedience, a bandh is a much-feared tool of protest.

A noteworthy incident of this would be the 2012 bandh when BJP and other parties called for a nationwide bandh in response to economic reforms undertaken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his finance minister P Chidambaram for cut in subsidies for diesel and cooking gas and allowing foreign investors in the retail sector. The bandh resulted in state buses getting stone pelted and autos, taxis refusing to commute, which brought the nation to a standstill.

We seemingly cannot let go of the 9 killings in April 2018, that took place in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan during the bandh for the review petition on the Supreme Court judgment on the SC/ST Act. With 448 people detained for spreading rumours on social media, one can only imagine the scale of it. The Maratha reservation bandhs over the past few months have also led to loss of lives and property. The list of such bandhs is endless.

Surpassing the Anticipation

A two-year-old girl in Jehanabad died on Monday while she was en route to the civil hospital as protesters had imposed a blockade. Can cluttered traffic be held responsible for similar cases? Furthermore, the loss of life and property adds up to the fact that the crux of the issue, i.e. petrol or diesel shacks are also facing the crunch as they come to meet the collapse by the loss of one-day shutdown.

Anuj Khandelwal, a petrol pump owner from Sendhwa on Agra-Mumbai NH, 15km from MP-Maharashtra border, is offering washing machine, laptop, bike, AC, Laptop and other gift items to lure customers. As quoted in the report, he said, "For purchase of 100 litres of diesel, a truck driver will get breakfast and tea for free, for 200 litres, the driver and the helper will get free food and tea. For 15,000 litres almirah, sofa set and other attractive gifts are being given out.”

Even if an entity assures a “peaceful bandh”, the past instances say otherwise. The idea of the protest gets misinterpreted by the hooligans who mistake it for a violent outburst. Arson attacks, stone pelting, have been conventionally employed as terror tactics in the past during protests, but is it any different from the lockdown we are facing today? Bandhs are increasingly used as an excuse to highlight the importance of an issue but instead end up as a curse.

In such a situation, we cannot help but rethink the whole idea of a protest. A protest is meant to express disapproval. But the bandh is eventually ending up harming the country and its people rather than putting forth a disapproval. Isn't it high time, therefore, that we protest indeed to put forth a point?