Sunday, June 27, 2010


I live in Kolkata or Calcutta – the City of Joy. Or, as some cynics call it – the land of bandhs and strikes.

For the uninitiated, bandh is the weapon which masses use to protest against all sorts of atrocities. That definition is the brainchild of the political parties in Bengal – in power, opposition, their various wings, arms and other limbs.

The masses themselves, beg to differ. Bandh is just a political gimmick. So, is its sister – 
Strike.  Both are giant inconveniences meant to cripple the aam aadmi and the hapless junta.
We had a transport strike yesterday – ostensibly to protest against the latest fuel hike diktat by the central government. As of this morning, I have not heard Dr. Singh and Co. being moved by this ardent protest by an arm of the ruling party in West Bengal.

But this strike did ensure that all the weekend plans of the public were ruined. The ‘Saturdays-should-be-spent-in-malls’ class could not venture out unless they had a car of their own. The daily labourers, wage earners and clerks could not go to work. Those with family functions (including yours truly) and emergencies paid exorbitant amounts for the luxury of conveyance. Passengers stranded at railway stations boarded trucks and lorries to go home and paid through their noses for the privilege.

In this morning’s newspaper report, the state leader of the opposition (an important cabinet minister who has her eyes set on the CM’s chair next year and therefore has better things to do than attend crucial cabinet meetings about trivial issues like fuel price hikes, inflation etcetra, etcetra) is quoted as saying on the issue, “Everyone has a right to protest”. So, what is she trying to say? That the strike is justified? Her partymen, meanwhile, indignantly claim that their party is totally against calling bandhs, conveniently forgetting that their leader had called a 48 hour bandh only a couple of years back.  And what about the recent times when this party had called for a bandh, though apparently under duress and with an apologetic countenance?

There was a time when bandhs used to be called by various political parties as often as once every month. These were (and still are to a great extent) generally very strategically scheduled on Mondays or Fridays, so that people were tempted to treat these as long weekends.  All shops, schools and offices would be closed. The roads, devoid of any traffic, would turn into cricket pitches and football grounds. The bangali babu with his cronies would gather on the steps of the closed grocery stores and tea stalls to debate the pros and cons of the bandh culture along with the latest sports news. The Marwari seth would treat himself to a day of sumptuous breakfasts, lunches and dinners with friends and family. And the ladies of the household would be as busy as on Sundays.

Much has been written about the bandh culture of Bengal and how it is difficult for industrial progress to blossom here (Tata Nano was one of the most high profile casualties in recent times). But the leviathan called the general public is stirring itself, although it has not yet regained full wakefulness. People now make an attempt to reach offices and schools. Some mavericks risk the wrath of the local political goons and open their shops. Private sector firms arrange for transport to pick up and drop employees. And those who are unable to avail any conveyance work from home on laptops and personal computers.

These are difficult times yet not quite desperate. So, desperate measures like a total shutdown of a populous state and its capital are perhaps best saved for the day when they are truly required. What we need are intelligent and sincere means of protest, when needed and not these muscle flexing shenanigans of our politicians (I shudder to think that they are proclaimed as leaders). Perhaps a total blacklisting of corrupt ministers and their counterparts in other political parties. Do not invite them as chief guests for functions. Do not ask them to inaugurate schools and malls. Do not give them the publicity that they seek by providing exclusive coverage of their rallies and other publicity stunts. Do not provide them with VIP passes at movie premieres and plays. Deny them the importance that they seek.

These are just random ideas. Maybe you have better. There’s no harm in trying them out. We alone cannot change the world. But we can be the opening batsmen and we can make a start.

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