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Nation On Strike: BANDH KARO YEH NATAK!, By Poonam I Kaushish, 3 Sept, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 3 September 2016

Nation On Strike


By Poonam I Kaushish


In this season of flood fury, civic apathy and economic disgruntlement, striking is the flavour of the season. Whereby, life came to a grinding halt Friday last when 10 Central unions with over 15 crores workers in banks, telecom, factories etc called a one-day nation-wide strike to demand higher minimum wage, social security while opposing changes in the labor laws. Underscoring a truism: Your freedom ends where my nose begins!

Curse all you want, it’s for a cause, remember. Undoubtedly, India thrives on protests. Which has perfected the old saying “jiski laathi uski bhains” and translated it into the modern Oxford dictionary lexicon: Bandh.  A coinage which transgresses all barriers -- linguistic, regional and social.

Turn North, South, East or West the story is the same. In fact, no day passes without a strike somewhere. Be it a mohalla, district or State. Wherein Bandhs aka hartal have not only become everyday occurrences but also an integral part of our psyche that most people consider it as a holiday! Despite innumerable court rulings banning them.

Recall, in 1997 the Kerala High Court held that bandhs were illegal and people could not be forced to be a part of these. In 2003 the Supreme Court endorsed this and added, “Government employees had no fundamental, legal, moral or equitable right” to go on strikes whatever the cause, “just or unjust”. Pointing out that aggrieved employees had other options available to them, the Bench opined: Strikes as a weapon is mostly misused, which results in chaos and total maladministration.


The Apex Court’s judgment also upheld the Kerala Court’s fine distinction between hartal and a bandh.  It held that hartal was a form of passive resistance and a call for it did not involve force. While a bandh was an enforced muscle flexing act which interfered with the freedom and fundamental right of citizens.


But the Court orders were like water off a duck’s back for our trade unionists. Simply, because it meant they would have to shut shop which was not possible as they thrive on protests to serve their cause of the day.  So what if it led to disruption of rail and air traffic, closure of Central establishments or totalled a huge loss for the nation.

Raising, a moot point: Are strikes actually expression of freedom or are they means of suppressing fundamental rights in a democracy? What drives unions to strike? Is it to keep its flock together? Ignominy of becoming irrelevant?  Guided by workers interest, commitment for a better wages and quality of life? Or political considerations?

Arguably, not a few would simply shrug it off with “sab chalta hai attitude, this is Mera Bharat Mahan at its rudest and crassest best.”  Many would assert ki pharak painda hai. Indeed, India has travelled a long way from Lokmanya Tilak’s “Swaraj is my birth right” to “strikes is my birth right.” Today, every other section of the society plans strikes as a matter of routine to stall anything that spells change from the set routine. 

The cause is immaterial. It is all about registering ones protest, the louder the better. Success is measured in terms of causing maximum dislocation and discomfiture to people. Bringing work to a standstill.

The labour unions are the worst. They are allergic to Government policies which follow the cut-the-flab, close-shop philosophy without realising the significance of socio-economic factors. So, whenever there is a talk about labour reforms, the working class gets its back up. For them, the word privatisation is anathema. Primarily, because privatization spells accountability.

Look at the irony. Drive down the teeming metropolises and one sees the inherent contradictions of India’s liberalization. The imposing glass-and-concrete high rises, neon signs flashing some of the world's biggest global names, and malls are all symbols of the thrusting ambitions of Indian business and society.

On the flip side the potholed roads, unreliable power supply and lack of urban infrastructure exposes the rank failure of the Government. This in turn encourages cynical trade unionism at the cost of generating employment and economic growth. Besides, part of the problem is that most trade unions are headed by netas who have their own axe to grind with the Government

On one hand we talk of India as the next super power with a strong economy on par with countries like Japan, Korea and China. On the other we fail to realize that strikes are a hindrance to achieving this goal. In no civilised nations do unions dare to justify distress of citizens as necessary to voice protest.

Certainly, the Constitution guarantees one the right to protest, but it does not guarantee one the right to infringe upon others rights. Unfortunately, our strikers fail to realize that strikes negate the basic concept of democracy. These are just a camouflage for non-performance, self-glorification, to flex their might and muscle, to gain sympathy or wriggle out of working hard.

Remember, democracy is neither mobocracy nor a license to create bedlam. It is a fine balance between rights and duties, liberties and responsibilities. One’s freedom pre-supposes another’s responsibilities and liberty. Importantly, bandhs cannot set things right and at the same time it cannot create any psychological impact or pressure on the minds of those people who are sitting at the helm of affairs.

Paralysing the State, black-mailing corporates, industries to get attention and policy reversals only exasperates the public and inconveniences them, cuts off the money flow, shoos off investors, and endangers their own jobs.

Clearly, the time has come to take a leaf out the US law, wherein there is no constitutional right to make a speech on a highway or near about, so as to cause a crowd to gather and obstruct the highway.  The right to assembly is to be so exercised as not to conflict with other lawful rights, interests and comfort of the individual or the public and public order.


In the UK, the Public Order Act, 1935 makes it an offence for any person in uniform to attend any public meeting, signifying his association with any political organization.  The Prevention of Crime Act, 1953, makes it an offence to carry any weapon in any ‘public place’ without lawful authority.  The Seditious Meetings Act, 1817 prohibits meetings of more than 50 persons within a mile of Westminster Hall during the sittings of Parliament. 


The writing on the wall is clear. The need of the hour is to stop giving into strong-arm tactics and change the dynamics of a bandh and replace it with a new social contract. There is need to hold a referendum where people decide what is right or wrong.  That gives higher bargaining power to the aam aadmi as opposed to Parties or unions who call for strikes, hold the State hostage only to achieve their own selfish interests.

The country needs good governance and economic growth. The right of the citizen is paramount. The question we all need to ask is: Can we afford strikes at all, leave aside for what purpose it may have been called? At some point we have to stand up and bellow, "Bandh karo ye natak!"--- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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