“A united opposition on Thursday enforced Bharat Bandh to protest against petrol price hike. Several states especially those ruled by the NDA witnessed total shutdown with offices closed, markets wearing a deserted look…,” reported IBNlive.
“Several states…witnessed total shutdown”, says the report. Most reports on the bandh use similar descriptions about the bandh.
But the days of the ‘total’ shutdown during bandhs are long gone, thanks to developments in technology.
Three decades ago, the idea of a ‘total’ bandh was real. It meant that banks, the post offices, the telegraph offices and stock exchanges were closed and that local transport did not function. These were enough to bring the wheels of commerce to a grinding halt.
That’s no more the case. Today, bandh or no bandh, one can complete all banking transactions on the internet. Thanks to e-mail, one can send and receive ‘letters’ and any other communication from the comfort of one’s house. Even if one couldn’t get to the stock exchange and your broker couldn’t make it to his office, one can buy and sell as many shares as one wants thanks to the net.
To many in urban India, the answer to a bandh call such as the one made regarding yesterday, is a resigned (or elated) “I’ll work from home.” Worse, for the organisers of the bandh, to many, the bandh is an excuse to head for the nearest weekend resort if the bandh happens to be on a Friday or Monday. “I’m on mail, BB and the phone.” That’s it; when you’re connected, the bandh doesn’t matter.
Is the bandh, then, past the ‘sell-by date’?
What is the value of a bandh when it cannot cripple commerce?
The bandh can, and does, indeed, cripple certain sectors even today. Brink-and mortar retail is shut down, restaurants and bars are closed, and so on. Indeed, large parts are certainly affected.
But the ‘total’ shut down is no longer a possibility.
The bandh, in today’s context, hits the daily wage earner the most – and affected the white collared worker the least. Compare this in the pre-internet era, when rich and poor alike were equally affected.
It’s ironic that, yesterday, the petrol user, in support of whom the bandh was called, was least affected, and users of diesel and CNG were worst hit. The blue collared worker suffers, while the white collared one, in many cases, can ‘work from home’.
Organisers of bandhs should realise that the concept of the bandh as we all knew it is dead. They received and sent their emails yesterday, even if the bandh was ‘successful’ in their city. They could draw cash from their ATMs, they could transfer funds to their children and to vendors, they could book train and airline tickets, they could have bought and sold shares, forex and commodities, they could consume real-time news from hundreds of sources, they could communicate, easily, with anyone in any corner of the word on their mobile phones.
So we have an entire class of people completely unaffected by the bandh. The very class the bandh is supposed to affect.
Is the bandh that we know, then, a complete waste of time?
Is the bandh dead?