India is dealing with yet another call for a nationwide strike, to protest the recent steep hike in fuel prices and opening the doors for foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail.
The history of these strikes, or ‘bandhs‘ as they are called here, dates back to the days of the British rulers, who were hell-bent on exploiting India’s resources and strengthening the wider British Empire. The bandhs would hit them hard with massive economic losses, forcing them to think twice before implementing repressive policies.
Today, who is being punished with these colonial-era style acts of civil disobedience?
Statistics Speak Louder than Words
A bandh that took place in early July presented a staggering figure on the economic losses that the country had to shoulder.
On that occasion, the country lost an estimated Rs. 13,000 crore in GDP, with commodity markets sustaining the biggest blow. This number reached pretty close to the amount of money allocated for the National Programme of Mid-day Meals for the fiscal year 2012-13, which stands at nearly Rs. 12,000 crore.
It is common for tempers to flare up during such strikes, in spite of repeated urges to stage peaceful protests. Schools and offices remain shut to prevent ordinary people from getting caught in the crossfire. The domino effect can be felt in several quarters of the economy and the wider world, as work comes to a sudden standstill.
I’ve sometimes read about government-run transport buses being vandalized in my city during such instances, with losses climbing to the tune of a few lakhs of rupees. The thought of the burden of repairs is frightening, especially when you are considering the destruction caused in several parts of the nation.
If citizens from the year 1900 were invited to witness the scene today, this may seem to them a tough punishment to hand down to a government set up by colonialists traveling from thousands of kilometers away to control the resource-rich country.
However, in year 2012, we are hitting our own selves hard!
The only consolation in the September strike is that some people have refused to participate to avoid overshadowing an important festival week.
As for arriving at approaches to tackle problems faced by the country, a lasting consensus made by representatives of diverse opinions can work better than orchestrations of intense stand-offs that leave us staring at mounting casualties.