April 4th was a red-letter day for many of us here. Not because Greg Chappell felt that coaching kangaroos is a less stressful experience than the Indian cricket team (Though the likes of Aaj Tak, CNN-IBN and the rest of them may think that this is only thing that matters to all of us). This day is significant because this was when the Government of Andhra Pradesh and Opposition joined hands, in a rare show of unanimity, to help the poor masses of Andhra Pradesh. The Opposition called for a State wide Bandh and the Government chipped in to provide legitimate, moral backing for this wonderful event. But then, YSR was not acting in an unprecedented fashion; a couple of days back, Karunanidhi called for a total bandh in Tamil Nadu to protest the Supreme Court’s verdict on the OBC reservation tangle.
The Supreme Court in August 2003 upheld the Kerala High Court's judgment declaring bandhs as illegal and unconstitutional way of collective bargaining, whatever the cause "just or unjust". The Bench opined: "Strike as a weapon is mostly misused, which results in chaos and total maladministration. Strikers cannot hold society to ransom." The Shiv Sena and the BJP were even penalized for damaging public property and we all felt that maybe, finally, we will stop being blackmailed by unions, that too in the name of social and economic justice. But then, I guess, that was too much wishful thinking; trust the democratic polity to uphold the finest traditions of democracy by staging strikes and protests at the drop of a hat.
The state of Andhra Pradesh went on a general bandh with the state-owned APSRTC calling off its services and the result - APSRTC suffered a loss to the tune of Rs 10 crore. Social justice was achieved because it gave an opportunity for the auto drivers and six seaters to mint money at the expense of the general public. So, minimum fares shot up from 10 Rs to 25 Rs just because we had no other option. There were office- goers like us who got away merely because our employer was thoughtful enough to arrange trips through private buses to tide over the crisis. Despite 2,800 city buses remaining off the roads, city roads were as busy as any other day with commuters hiring auto-rickshaws or hitch-hiking their way to their destinations. Banks and other commercial establishments remained open though the attendance was thin.
Take a look at the estimated loss due to lockouts in the country. The Labour Bureau figures state that West Bengal contributed more than 60 per cent - the highest of any State - of all mandays lost due to strikes and lockouts in the country last year. The next two biggest contributors to mandays lost last year were Kerala, with 30.6 lakh (13.5% of the national figure) and Rajasthan, with 19.3 lakh (8.29%). For Kerala, this was an almost five-fold increase from the previous year with officials attributing it to the labour crisis in the plantation sector last year. For Rajasthan, it was a 45% increase. Clearly, all signs of Shining India!!!
Even though bandhs are illegal, I can understand the Opposition parties calling for a hartal but what happens when the ruling party, duly elected by us, decides to stop all public life. Don’t the elected representatives owe it to the people to take care of their needs? Can they violate the rights of the people in the name of spirit of democracy? Mahatma Gandhi was the pioneer of strikes and hartals but he would never have thought that a day would come when his strategy would be so counter-productively used by our leaders.
Can our leaders explain the reason for calling a strike and putting thousands of us to this kind of inconvenience? Moral support for the OBC cause could be done through more democratic means but why does it have to come through calling off work? We all know it’s a joke when we are told that it was a voluntary strike by the masses and not something done through coercion. There were a few petrol pumps and shops which were subject to stone throwing because they were open despite the call.
As stakeholders in the country, we need to question the irresponsibility of the State and Central Govt. (both are run by Congress) in causing deliberate loss to the State’s treasury by abdicating responsibilities. If the State, who has to protect its citizens, puts the lives of its people at peril, who will protect the people? We need to estimate the loss suffered by the exchequer due to this and then probably take some punitive action against the callous attitude of the government. YSR cannot do anything about the land acquisition disputes or the immovable traffic in urban areas but he can support a bandh against a Supreme Court order??? Where are the government’s priorities?
We may take pride in calling ourselves a genuine democracy but let us ask ourselves where we are headed when it becomes a play tool in the hands of spineless governments who are least bothered about public welfare . There is no point in merely sneering at Chinese and Singapore polities and accusing them of lacking in democratic institutions, when we really can’t deliver with our half- baked approaches towards governance. Freedom of expression is a very fundamental feeling we all cherish and the ability to criticize the Government may give us a high but if that’s the only thing I can do, what’s the point?
It has been only AP and Tamil Nadu till now, surely the bastion of strikes, Kerala, cannot be behind. With a fundamentally crippled economy, it lumbers ahead as communists continue to milk the state dry and leave the state to the Gulf expatriates. Even Iraq may not have called for a strike when Saddam Hussain was hanged, but my dear state went on a strike!!! West Bengal is trying to do a metamorphosis by shedding the red colour but the Kerala comrades, unmindful of the stupidity involved in its deep entrenched Trade Unionism, continue to perpetuate unemployment. God save HIS OWN STATE…
As the dialogue in Spiderman goes " With great power comes great responsibility", the leaders must realise that there are more mature ways to handle disagreements and disputes among people. A greater tolerance of individual and collective views and mutual respect for different opinions is required before we start feeling smug about ourselves. Merely criticizing others is no way ahead; we need to learn from our mistakes and the success of nations how to march ahead.
There are teething problems but I remain an optimist; without a hope or a dream, there is no survival...