Strike that: Whose loss is it anyway?
A few buses have been torched, a few trains have been stopped, a few people failed to get to work, a few shops were shut, a few lost their daily wages and the exchequer will register a big loss. Someone is telling India’s “common man” that this strike is in his interest.
The transportation shutdown that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and several left-leaning parties called for as a protest against a steep rise in petrol prices is seen as a means to exploit popular anger against the ruling Congress-led government, though political parties insist that they won’t benefit at election time.
A 12-hour ‘Bharat Bandh‘ (“India shutdown”) to protest against inflation in 2010 cost the exchequer 130 billion rupees, according to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). This time it can only be more. Given all of India’s other problems, can the country afford such losses?
For many autorickshaw drivers, rickshaw pullers and daily wage labourers, a strike means no earnings for the day. That’s good enough reason to look for alternate ways to protest.
Thursday’s strike was not as peaceful as promised. Local media reported that strike supporters stopped trains in Delhi, set fire to two buses in the city of Pune and stoned about a dozen others. Incidents of violence have been reported from other states.
Such protests let smaller parties and factions make their presence felt. In Mumbai, the Shiv Sena, a BJP ally, said residents “should not venture out of their houses“. A strike is ideally a voluntary exercise, but fear can push some people into cooperating in a more involuntary way.
The ability to voice dissatisfaction is one of the benefits of a democracy, but is bringing the country to a standstill a good way of doing it? Maybe it’s time that political parties find better ways to articulate public interest.
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