The following article came in the New Indian Express on July 11, 2010 in my Sunday column Un Intended.
A Chop At The Roots Of Democracy
In a true democracy, people must protest freely to express their views. And we know how to protest, don’t we? Ask the British and they will give us a glowing recommendation. But those days have long disappeared. The commoner is not protesting. Democracy is in danger, I felt.
I met this chap checking newspaper headlines at an Irani café a few days ago. “See,” he said gleefully. “The Bharat bandh was a huge success. Everyone got together.” “Really,” I exulted, at this rare unity amongst our countrymen. “Yes,” he said. “To keep democracy alive, protests are essential. Not essential goods!” But why this bandh, I asked innocently. “Prices are rising baba,” he said, shaking his head at my ignorance. So how is the bandh going to tackle rising prices, I asked. “Close down everything!” he shouted wildly. “Rs. 13000 crore loss for the country in one day.” But won’t that effect the economy and push up prices further. I mean, a candle lit protest is fine, but Rs. 13000 crore loss? We must repair the damage caused by the bandh, I said, getting up. “You are right,” he muttered. “Our prices have gone up.” Your prices? What are they now, I asked.
“Anyway, you cannot go anywhere now,’ he said, checking his notebook and changing the topic. “The radicals have called for a 48 hour bandh.” A 48 hour bandh? Why? Isn’t that a bit too much? “In a democracy everyone has a right to protest,” he said firmly. “Dissent is good.” But we cannot have bandhs everyday and by everyone, I said. Why not, he countered angrily. The more the better.
He consulted his book again. “We have a 56 hour bandh by politicians, judges and beaurocrats to protest against corruption and criminal cases filed against them. Some want exclusive rights for top posts in sports bodies, specially female ones. And the education sector wants to organize a bandh to bribe the Council authorities freely and to collect money from students without interruptions.” But what kind of protests are these, I spluttered.
I tried to peek into his book. He shielded it and looked at me darkly. “A 24 hour bandh by communal organizations wanting permission to kill people of other communities without interference. A hoochwala bandh to make drinking compulsory, taxi drivers bandh to dispense with meters …” he reeled off. “Producers bandh for casting couch rights, students for cheating, rapists, kidnappers ….” My jaw dropped.
“Muh bandh,” he said, wagging his finger at me. “Close your shutter. I want more protests. The spirit of democracy must live on.” The café closed its shutters. I asked him why he was doing so much for democracy. He thrust his card at me. Bandh Consultant, said the card. Always open to shut, was his tagline.
“There is one marginalized section that approached me. You see, mafia gangs based abroad are not able to protest. Even they have a right to protest, no,” he pondered. “I am considering an international bandh.” I told him I would stay at home on that day surely. He smiled brightly at this unexpected support. “Anything I can shut for you? Any bandh?” No thanks, I said, my constitution was working quite fine. He consulted his diary. “No, no, you must. There is one bandh for you. Some parties had booked dates for a bandh, but they don’t know what to protest against. So I am organizing a small protest against bandhs. Bandh Bandh. Social service yaar. It’s a useless, peaceful bandh that no media will cover. Come join it.”