How ironic that the opposition has to actually call a particular day the day for a Bharat Bandh. Hasn’t Bharat been bandh for quite a few months already now ever since the government went into a deep freeze? And the one move the government finally took to show that maybe Bharat was not bandh is being used as an excuse to bring bharat back to a bandh. How ironic and how irresponsible.
Those professing the bandh may want to keep the following things in mind.
1) They should be clear about who they are calling the bandh against. The report in the Business Standard on 28th May shows how state governments are benefitting far more than the Central government through this price hike. While the Central government now gets some Rs 14.78 per liter as excise duties, the state governments get between Rs 12.2 and Rs 19.83 per liter VAT and sales taxes. If anything, the ire of the protesters should be directed at the state governments. Or at the most, towards both the center and the state. But if they did this, the protest would soon fizzle out. Why? Because the bandh is a purely political move; and if the political move has to be directed against its own government, I wonder if any BJP wonderkid would like to be seen on the street (at least in the BJP ruled states)!
2) The poor of the country – that is some 70% of the population – is not supporting this bandh. The precise reason why petrol prices keep increasing and the other fuels keep getting spared (a policy I don’t agree with) is that a petrol price hike doesn’t even so much as touch the poor. The poor don’t use petrol. If instead of hiking petrol prices by Rs 8, the government had only hiked diesel prices by Rs 3-4, and LPG prices by Rs 50 a cylinder, it would have collected more monies. But that would have hurt the poor. So it will never do that. It will do everything devious possible – like increasing excise duties on diesel cars (a move that will hardly correct the scenario, but will make diesel cars more popular for all the wrong reasons) – to avoid increasing the prices of diesel and other such fuels. It will do that for political reasons. The core constituency of the Congress is the rural poor. And the petrol price hike is not bad news for the rural poor. They have been spared. And further, the additional resources so raised will be used for schemes that help them directly. The BJP’s core constituency is the urban middle-class, not the rural poor. Clearly, the Congress’s aam aadmi is different from the BJP’s!
3) The Left parties may well want to stay out of this bandh, even though they would find it very difficult not to heed a bandh call given their genetic disposition towards bandhs! They’ve been unable to hold a bandh in Mamataland for a year now, so they must be itching to do what they do best somewhere else. But they may want to remember that they owe their existence (for all the wrong reasons though) to the rural poor. Their constituency is the same as the Congress’s. By backing a bandh which is so pro urban-middle class, they are surely yielding ground to the Congress in the rural areas.
4) The BJP may well want to consider why it is in such a ruinous state all over, even as the ruling Congress is faring so poorly itself. Populism has become the BJP’s core tenet; and the BJP has proven that again in Goa where its new CM has not only waived off the extra VAT that his state government earns through the price hike, but also the entire VAT the state earned. Yes….the entire VAT. So now, petrol actually costs some Rs 11 cheaper in Goa than it did last week; selling now at some Rs 61 odd. Wow. What a great leader Paricker is proving to be! In reality, he is an unmitigated disaster. How will he manage his state’s finances if he foregoes the biggest source of income? But again, out of the pressures of populism, a small state like Goa is being used as a metaphor to prove that the BJP is pro-urbanites. Just like the small state of Uttarakhand had been used to show its support for Anna’s ideal Lok Ayukta law. Again, the skullduggery is apparent. For every Uttarakhand that implemented the ideal Lok Ayukta, there was a Gujarat which failed to appoint a Lok Ayukta for eight long years and an MP and Karnataka from where the stench of corruption travelled far and wide. For every Goa that plays Santa on petrol prices, there is a Gujarat, MP and Karnataka that have gleefully digested the extra gains, even while launching the Bharat Bandh!
5) The bandh call shows yet again the Congress’s main failing. It’s not bad policies, but simply bad communication with the public. Ideally, the government should inform the public about the need for the price increase; and make the price increases and decreases more frequent and in line with price movements internationally. It should also seize the opportunity to launch a strong program for development of public transport. If the government increased prices by another 10 rupees a litre, but diverted the entire 10 rupees in a transparent way towards developing the metro or the BRTS or any other form of public transport, it would earn the support of the urban middle class. At the very minimum, the Congress should inform the public that their rivals in the states pocket as much, if not more, of the taxes as they have. But the Congress has failed to do any such thing. It has instead preferred to talk about the minority quota, or be drawn into the silly and stupid Coalgate allegations of a misdirected “naxalite-minded crazies” (Subramaniam Swamy – a soon-to-be-BJP-leader called it, not me!) movement of the so-obviously-non-Gandhian Anna. It needs to get its focus right, but then getting the focus right is proving to be an impossible task for the Congress!
The real truth is that the Bharat Bandh is a mockery of common sense. Bharat is already bandh. Maybe the protest should have been to restart Bharat. Maybe we need a Bharat-chalu or Bharat-shuru or something! But then, who cares whether Bharat is bandh or is shuru. The Congress has lost the skill to run the government; the BJP cares little for the country. Politics rules everything, and the economy matters little. The bandh it shall be!