A successful bandh in Mumbai is an easy deal, regardless of the cause.
The main ingredient for its accomplishment is the involvement of the Shiv Sena. Without them, the bandh is never complete – as in having achieved the targets of empty streets, shuttered shops, unattended offices and school kids at home. Add to this list the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which has the untested potential in this battleground of bandhs.
It is not so much a spontaneous success that was achieved when Mahatma Gandhi gave the call for a hartal or when he asked in 1942 for the British to quit India. The bandhs are engineered not so much by conviction about the cause being genuine and a matter universally troublesome to the city’s citizenry. It is, and can be, invariably successful even if they don’t believe in it.
The Shiv Sena has perfected the strategy of a successful bandh. Its cadre fan out in the morning, just walking about in groups signalling that they are on the streets with intent. Around the time peak hour traffic is about to commence, a group swarms on to the railway tracks, stand ahead of a Mumbai local train’s locomotive, with pre-arranged news photographers around to capture their triumph.
A few minutes’ stoppage cascades, disrupting the finely tuned schedules of the commuter trains to the extent of a chaos. A bit of stone throwing peppers the event and then the station empties out. The commuters then know that the bandh is on and try to scurry home befor ethe BEST buses are taken off the roads.
That makes the bandh, as television channels and the newspapers the next day would call it, ‘complete’.
The trick is not to try and disrupt the train services across the city’s network. It is enough if the cadres zero-in on a train at the northern suburbs of Dahisar or Borivali, Mankhurd and Mulund. When the trains do not trundle into the stations between these and Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus and Churchgate, the entire city gets the signal: the bandh is on.
The ideology of the railway’s running staff union does not matter, the railways themselves halt the trains resuming only after 6 pm which is an unofficial cut off for all bandhs; you can be as safe as a sleeping baby in a cradle thereafter, except from the normal vagaries of Mumbai’s life. The ideology of the BEST union does not matter either. The ideology of a city divided among political parties too does not matter.
Once the trains are disrupted, the cadre takes to the streets enforcing the bandh, forcibly shuttering a shop, pelting a stone at a glass-fronted building. Unlike in the pre-TV and pre-cell phone days, the word spreads. The wife calls the husband asking if he is safe, and saying,” There is a bandh in our area; why don’t you return home?”
He in turn becomes a point spreading concern to other commuters on the platform. If he had reached the workplace already, he makes a silly attempt to return with buses and trains unavailable, depend on taxis and rickshaws which too can be dicey. No one wants to risk a broken windscreen, or a shop window.
It has a lot to do with the linear nature of the city. The entry points – Dahisar, Mulund, and Mankhurd are the chicken’s necks for the city, easily throttled for maximum effect. A small knot of men can deal with them, stifling the entire city of 1.2 crore people, most of whom do have an existential crisis on a day-to-day basis, including the issues which triggered the call for the bandh in the first place.
All this, of course, has a background. The use of muscle with impunity in the past made Shiv Sena a better bandh organiser or enforcer than any political parties. If Datta Samant were alive, he too would have been limited in his reach and might not have been able to extend it beyond the textile mills. Even the militant communists who once ruled the working class areas of the city would not be able to fan out and get an across-the-city response as Shiv Sainiks do because the latter have a reputation; the Left is barely a distant memory now.
It also explains why even the Bharatiya Janata Party needs the help of Shiv Sena to ensure a bandh’s success. There have been independent BJP efforts in the past which only faltered and made them cautious. The Republican Party of India may chip in a bit this time but may not contribute much due to it has substantially losing popular support . Even the Congress or Nationalist Congress Party cannot marshal such enforcers because they do not have the politics of the street ingrained into their DNAs; they are into only politics of power.
So watch out for news from the railway stations and you would know the success of the bandh in Mumbai: partial, complete or something which fizzled out.