BANDHS AND VIOLENCE
Why did the BJP call a Bandh on 31st May? This is a question asked by many, and I shall try to answer truthfully.
First, I personally -- and I emphasize the word ‘personally’, because I have no mandate to speak on behalf of the whole party -- hate Bandhs. I am a Rightist by temperament, and so is our party by creed, and our motto is to keep life going as usual. Then why the Bandh, and why am I supporting it?
This Bharat Bandh call (which cannot possibly leave out West Bengal) was given in response to an unprecedented hike in Petrol prices which is the direct result of a gross mismanagement of the economy by the UPA government. The BJP usually does not give Bandh calls, nor are bandhs a ‘fact of life’ (in the sense they are in West Bengal) in the states in which BJP is strong, such as Delhi, Gujarat or Karnataka. The bandh thus has thus to be seen differently in West Bengal from that in other states. In the other states it was an exceptional thing and to be taken with the utmost seriousness; in West Bengal it was just another bandh, similar to the innumerable bandhs called earlier by CPI(M), Trinamool, Congress, SUCI, Naxalites and several other parties (not to speak of the general strike call given by the ruling Muslim League in undivided Bengal on 16th August 1946 which unleashed the Great Calcutta Killings).
I now come to the issue of vandalism, destruction of property, and obstruction of the arteries of transport. There cannot be two opinions on the proposition these are reprehensible, condemnable. But this is a political idiom in West Bengal, begun by the Left in the 1950s, the most notable among the incidents being in July 1953 when they burnt 13 tramcars on a single day in protest against a 1-pice hike in tram fares. Since then innumerable bandh calls have been given by them, the Congress and Trinamool, and there have been violent incidents in many of them. I remember something that happened almost in front of my eyes – following a bandh call by the Congress (possibly in 1986) during Left rule, Congress goons lobbed a petrol bomb into a double-decker bus near Charu Market in Tollygunge in South Kolkata. Two young girls were killed as a result.
The Left usually don’t regret such incidents, though the Congress and BJP do. Then why do leaders of such political parties countenance such violence? Is it simply the hypocrisy of politics? Partly yes, perhaps, but not wholly so. It is a fact that in India politics attracts the riffraff of society, and in a bandh-like situation there is no control on such elements, particularly when the government tries to resist the bandh. Of course, in the CPI(M)-sponsored bandhs during Left rule there was no government resistance to the bandh, so no violence. Boys comfortably played cricket on the main traffic arteries and government employees, having done their shopping the previous evening, had a heavy lunch and enjoyed their siesta.
So the only cure for such violence is not to have bandhs at all. But this cannot be achieved by a Mamata Banerjee who has reached her present position partly by calling bandhs, and now having come to power suddenly has had a change of heart and decides to pontificate against bandhs. No one will listen to her – as government employees paid no heed to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s ‘Do it now’ slogan, because they remembered that it this Buddhadeb’s party which had taught them the culture of cheating on work.
So bandhs can be stopped only by an all-party agreement. There again, the Left parties will never agree. It is the Left which created this political idiom, and it is the dominant idiom in West Bengal. So there is no hope for West Bengal so long as the Left parties remain relevant.
There is another aspect to this. After BJP's bandh on 31st May (including the violence) many people sat up, took notice and said, “Oh, we didn't know BJP had that many cadres in West Bengal”! Imagine what would have been the situation if, on the other hand, BJP had declared that they will never call a bandh, never indulge in violence? The same people would have said, “What, the BJP! Sour grapes! Does the BJP exist in West Bengal that they are talking about not calling bandhs”?
Now they say it no more. Very unfortunate, but that’s how it is.