Did the shutdown help anyone at all?

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It is hard to find anyone in this country who is not seriously concerned about the spiraling prices of essential items. Prices have been unconscionably high for two years, from the days of the first UPA government, and all but the top five percent of the population are affected. However, prices were shooting up even when petroleum products were selling at a lower rate than at present. There is, therefore, no direct and unique correlation between what the consumer pays for kitchen goods and the government’s decision to cut subsidies on petrol, diesel and LPG. Much of that subsidy wasn’t benefiting the poorer sections anyway. It can be argued that reducing those subsidies has the potential to raise prices to some extent. It can equally be said that the money saved by the government from the subsidy cuts now becomes available to alleviate the living conditions of the neediest in other ways. By overlooking the basic causes that caused the price rise, by disregarding issues pertaining to economic management that might have helped to rein in prices, and by highlighting petroleum prices as the villain of the piece, the Opposition forums that orchestrated the July 5 Bharat bandh —which has the unpleasant meaning of “shutting down India” — have shown their penchant for dramatic effect but not for the hard political work it takes to bring public grievances to the fore. There is also some hypocrisy in the posturing of the parties that did their utmost to bring daily life to a halt on July 5. Each of them — during the rule of the National Democratic Alliance and the United Front — was a party to earlier decisions by the Center to deregulate petroleum prices and cut subsidies, the Left not excluded. It should also be said of the Left that they did not withdraw support from the UF on this count. Later, when they partnered UPA-1, they pulled out of their pro-Congress arrangement over the nuclear deal with the United States, and not over pressing economic issues that matter to the working class and the poor. Therefore, the unbridled zeal of Opposition parties of the Left and Right, acting in tandem, to shut down India, no less, is inexplicable, not to say inconsistent with their previous actions. Add to this the question of ends and means, and the Bharat bandh call becomes hard to defend. Dozens of trains cancelled across the country, nearly a hundred flights grounded, and the spectacle of menacing party workers of all shades forcing economic activity to cease in cities and towns across India is not exactly the currency of democratic protest, even if it had not meant the loss of several thousand crore rupees in potential earnings for the national economy. It is hard to think of another democracy where flagrant coercion substitutes for constitutional mass action. There is a possible explanation for this: the bandh enforcers might be incapable of organizing people by persuasion, and, therefore, prefer to make do with shortcuts involving threatening daily life and income opportunities of the poorest sections of society — the daily wage-earner and the push-cart operator. No country that  wishes to move ahead can afford to go that way.

The Left has struck together with the BJP and it will have to stand on its head to explain the rationale to its cadre. Both sides will claim “victory” for their cohabitation approach, and offer expedient justifications. In due course, this might even lead them to join forces in Parliament and possibly in the state legislatures as well. The ball was set rolling with the visit of CPI (M) and CPI parliamentary leaders to the offices of the BJP recently. Are we revisiting the era of opportunism that had brought Mandal and Kamandal together, midwife by the Communist Manifesto?

Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle

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