ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Understanding the Bandh

Without adequate mass participation, Bharat bandhs may not achieve their goals.

The country experienced a Bharat bandh (all-India general strike) after a long time on 5 July, in protest against the deregulation of fuel prices and high inflation, now uncontrolled for over a year. Both the issues are important and it is commendable that the opposition parties, led by the left, have made these the centre of their political agenda. While the economic policies of the past decade and more have managed to put the country on a high-growth track, it is also evident that inequality has increased sharply and we are doing terribly on many social indicators. In such a situation, the level of opposition to the economic policies of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (upa) government is actually less than what it should be. For far too long have government policies been enacted and implemented without any significant mass opposition. That needs to change, and thus, the raising of the agitational pitch is welcome. But, having said this, it is also necessary to take a closer look at the particular weapon which was deployed on 5 July – the Bharat bandh or general strike.

The key to understanding the structure and political implications of the Bharat bandh is in the fact that more than nine out of 10 of India’s workers are in the unorganised sector. A majority of these are in the rural areas linked to agriculture; those in nonfarm work remain fragmented in small and smaller units. In the urban areas too, a large number of working people are casual labourers or self-employed. Even within the organised sector, a large proportion of workers are on daily contracts and other forms of casual labour. The livelihood of this overwhelmingly large workforce, as reiterated recently in the reports of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, remains precarious and depends on daily earnings. Agitations like Bharat bandh disrupt this.

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