Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Bandh and A Long Weekend

A 'Bandh', on the face of it, is a form of public protest. The term is taken from Hindi, where it literally means 'Closed'. So basically when someone declares a ‘Bandh’, it is their way of saying that everything will remain closed. No businesses, no public transport, no schools - almost everything that comes close to being associated with the term 'Public Amenity' will be stopped from functioning and the general public is expected to stay home. It's form of civil disobedience and, hypothetically speaking, a ‘Bandh’ is declared by people/a group of people that has reached the end of its tether and turns to civil disobedience as the last course of action to get their voices heard. So you would expect shop keepers or store owners or labor unions or groups like that to declare a 'Bandh' so as to make their grievances heard by people who are supposed to lend an ear to them.

I hope I have succeeded in giving those unfamiliar with the term, a rudimentarily correct definition and explanation of what a 'Bandh' is. Now for a dose of reality (Oh no. This might get really long!!).

A 'Bandh', in actuality, is a tool used by political parties, usually the ones not in power currently, as a stick to beat the ruling party with. (Here let me make a disclaimer that I am talking about what I have observed happens in India. I am making this distinction because the person reading this might happen to be, by mistake, from another country where the political establishment is not structured the way it is here and therefore might not understand when I talk about ruling party and opposition parties and such. With that out of the way, let's get back to what I was saying before the disclaimer) So how is the 'Bandh' used as a stick? The political parties declaring the 'Bandh' will make sure that everything is closed, if required by using force, and thereby ensure that people stay indoors, whether they want to or not. This automatically has a huge impact on the community where the 'Bandh' has been declared. And any impact on community will automatically land on the laps of the government because it's their responsibility to make sure that people are not inconvenienced. Of course, these 'Bandh' declaring politicians and parties will give sound bites saying that they were forced to do so because they represent the common man and a whole lot of similar bovine excretion. It's of course a known secret that they really do this to maintain their place in the public mind-space and at the same time try to show the incumbents in the government in a bad light.

That huge explanation was what I believed to be reality, based on my observations as I grew up (Yes, I have actually grown up over the years. Just not to the extent people expected me to!). But suddenly, this year, I have seen the plot take a curious turn. Suddenly I am coming across the phrase 'Government declared Bandh'! Hmmm, so has the government decided that it has stayed aloof for too long and thinks it's about time it jumped on the 'Bandh' bandwagon? If it were a regular, run-of-the-mill 'Bandh', us common, affected folks would have sat back, armed with the proverbial pop-corn and soda, and watched the in-power and out-of-power politicians fight it out. If the government itself declares the 'Bandh', there is no entertainment to be had while you are getting inconvenienced. That being the case, I really don't understand the rationale behind this move. But now that the concept is out, it will probably become as mainstream as the regular one and then, over time, I will understand why a government would do this.

What I do understand right away is that today marks the beginning of what might eventually turn out to be an extra long weekend for me. Saturday and Sunday, being the two halves of the weekend, are anyways 'don't-go-to-office' days. Now the following Monday is most probably going to be 'work-from-home' day because of a ‘Bandh’ call given by the government. Then it’s the 2nd of October, the birthday of that man known to us Indians as the 'Father of the Nation' and 'The Mahatma' and because we need to celebrate his birthday, Tuesday happens to be a national holiday. So, potentially, that's four full days of staying put in the house. I say potentially because the Monday might still turn out to be the same old, dreary beginning of the work week if the courts and judiciary have their say about the validity of the 'Bandh'. But right now I have no complaints whatsoever about people letting me sit at home for long periods of time.

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