At it again

Bandhs and strikes continue to be a daily phenomenon despite the restoration of democracy and the approaching constituent assembly (CA) elections. Any group, big or small, tends to call a bandh and the public, as resigned as before, supinely observes it. The main reason for the success of almost any bandh is that the public has developed a fear psychosis that if it defies the call, it runs the risk of harm — threat to life or damage to vehicles or shops. Therefore, the degree of the success of a bandh or strike is not necessarily a barometer of public support for a particular group. And this applies to the bandh organisers in the Terai as well as to an indefinite nationwide transport strike since Sunday to push a 10-point roster of demands, including security for commercial vehicles. Such a situation has been helped by the helplessness of the government, which has an essential services Act, which it invokes to control a weaker group, for instance hotel workers not long ago, but hardly ever to deal with stronger groups like transport owners and medical doctors.

The eight-party decision yesterday not to call strikes or bandhs themselves, calling simultaneously upon all groups to desist from such actions in view of the CA polls, is a positive one. But such appeals fell on deaf years in the past, and government promises to compensate bus owners for damage to their vehicles during bandhs were fulfilled at best only partially, that, too, on very few occasions. As the government could not provide protection or compensation, everybody seemed to think that discretion was the better part of valour. So even transport owners took their vehicles off the roads even when other groups organised bandhs. Now that they themselves have gone on strike, even the few commercial vehicles that used to ply have been put in the garage.

The government should listen to the grievances of any group and try its best to resolve the reasonable ones. This is the duty of any government. But this by no means implies that it should allow itself to be cowed into submitting to unjustifiable demand of any group just because such a group adopts violent means or stops essential services or threatens others in society to follow suit. This applies equally to transporters. Their demands, such as security and compensation, may not be unjustifiable, but these should be dealt with within a broader framework. Others in society need security and compensation as well. Further, the fulfilment of one group’s demands should not impinge on the legitimate interests of other groups or of society in general. While being flexible within reasonable limits, the government, which is in power due to the success of the Jana Andolan II, should be prepared to take measures strong enough, if need be, to bring the situation back to normal. Otherwise, lack of action will only contribute to a slide towards anarchy. Then, this government, or for that matter any government, forfeits its moral authority to govern.