Bandhs are a form of protest that I have never understood. That productivity should come to a halt to accommodate some political party’s whim is ridiculous. Most absurd though is that schools and educational institutions are needlessly dragged into this scenario. This creates obvious problems not only in terms of disrupting classes and exams but also leaves parents scrambling to find appropriate caretakers for children who are suddenly on holiday. After all many parents still have to go to work, bandh or not, and many others are equipped to work from home being invariably tethered to the Interwebs.
Last week, school children enrolled in private schools in Hyderabad held a massive rally to protest against the bandhs. The Andhra Pradesh Recognised Schools Managements Association organized the protests demanding that educational institutions be brought under the Essential Services and Management Act (ESMA). The ESMA makes it illegal for persons engaged in essential services to go on strike. ESMA is typically invoked in strikes involving doctors, nurses, transportation services, etc. The government decided against invoking ESMA in the saga of the AI pilot strike. Perhaps it’s apparent to everyone that AI is non-essential.
Of course there is the other matter that bandhs are illegal in India and have been so since 1998 when the Supreme Court upheld a Kerala High Court verdict ruling that they are illegal. The reasoning was that implicit in the call for a bandh is the threat of physical violence or damage to goods for those who don’t follow the order when a bandh is called.
It’s incredible that the government is complacent and political parties brazenly break the law in calling for bandhs and there are no real or meaningful challenges made. Kudos to the AP Association for taking a stand and hopefully the government will see the light and make the change.
No doubt that there must be room for vigorous protest and dissent in any democracy. However bandhs accomplish little other than massive losses. Bandhs have resulted in the loss of crores to the Indian economy. It was reported that Manipur was losing crores every day in May due to bandhs. Mumbai’s bullion market lost Rs 300 crore on one day due to a bandh also in May. Last year the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) published a report stating that West Bengal was losing Rs 8,000 crore a year due to bandhs. In 2010, it was estimated that the one day Bharath Bandh cost India losses between Rs. 3000-13,000 crore.
This kind of loss is staggering and needs to stop especially since there are laws in place to deal with such illegal activity. As with many things, the laws are in place. Enforcement is something that is never done.
And so instead of wasting everyone’s time and destroying whole days of productivity, parties calling for bandhs should instead consider outsourcing the protest. Anna, Baba & Company (ABC) could start an event management company to take up any and all bandh issues. The can just head out to the Jantar Mantar, yell hoarsely, deride everything and everyone, utter a few Sanskrity phrases, gesticulate wildly, stir up passions… The media will lap it up and the point will be made over and over and beamed into every television nationwide.
Economically it makes sense. Don’t you think?