This morning I indeed experienced the bout of Monday Blues as I flipped the newspaper open. The very first page was populated with the news concerning the increase in the bus fares, the Cauvery water crisis, and the upcoming strike by the petrol pump owners resulting in the mad rush to get the fuel. By the way tomorrow is Gandhi Jayanti. The month of September alone has seen a bout of strike in Karnataka alone, what with the 2 day bus strike, the Bharat Bundh, and now the upcoming Karnataka Bandh (Oct 6th 2012). It is a wonder how the system still manages to work.
There may not have been a better day to understand the psyche behind this mania of strikes that has gripped the country, than the eve of the Birthday of the Father of our Nation. For it was Mahatma Gandhi who gave the concept of strike its power that is now wielded unprecedentedly in Indian socio-political spheres. A Strike as a phenomenon is an act where an individual or a group refuses to attend to their share of responsibilities as a mark of protest against an authority. It has been a key weapon to get the authority’s attention, and render a blow to the very fragment of a systematically functioning system – such as the one necessary in the administration process. During the British regime, this was an attack on the very nerve of the administration, as no daily tasks could be attended to without the workforce present. It is now over 6 decades since the British have left, and the weapon still continues to spew fire, albeit on our own authority. Thus we have with us one of the key remnants of Indian Freedom struggle movement, with one key difference. The strike then was a socially motivated political move while the strike these days is politically/individually motivated, socially obstructive move.
Most of the instances of strike that we see currently are politically arranged (political in my opinion includes not only the elected representation of local/national administration, but also any organized group that manages/represents a homogenous/heterogeneous group of people including but not limited to labor unions, associations for various essential services, etc.). The motives behind these are factors that are beneficial to a group of people only. However, the impact of the strike is generally felt across the society, especially when it involves essential services such as medical, transportation, or food supplies. Such widespread impacts are the key factors that add the punch to the strike called by these services, and force the administration to settle the matters. Thus inconvenient as it is, the general public is made the scapegoat in the process of a strike. It is such forms of strike that I am more interested in – the ones that impact the daily life of a common man. One of the chief elements missing in such acts is a proactive involvement of not only the administration but also the groups that have called for a strike. A Strike, contrary to general perception is not a chaotic act. It has a definite agenda and a defined process of execution. It is this order that gives it its strength. However, in the absence of such process, it degenerates into mayhem that has adverse impact on the lives of common innocent people.
Damaging public property, attacking individuals, and even causing loss of lives is a mark of hooliganism unveiled during Strikes. It can ofcourse be (and is generally) a calculated and planned action to augment the adverse impact of the strike, and is a despicable yet common feature of strikes these days. But what is equally abhor-able is the callousness of the groups that have called for a strike. For example, the 2 day bus strike in Bangalore left many people stranded with no means of feasible transportation to even basic essentials like hospitals. To make hay, the other means of transport services such as cabs and autos were fleecing customers demanding twice or thrice the metered amount. It is almost tantamount to a criminal nexus between various groups to exploit the common man under the garb of grievance. The system as well as the administration failed miserably to ensure that atleast the basic needs of the common man would not be adversely affected while they battle out their differences. Ofcourse, in many cases it is a paradox to expect such consideration from a group that intends to disrupt the commoner’s life through Strike actions. That there is a grouse in the administration that necessitates strike is an accepted fact. But whether a strike is absolutely necessary or is it an arm-bending tactic is a question usually left to the conscience of the group. The frequency with which it is resorted to however, confirms a supposition that it is turning into a dangerous habit. What is gravely missing in such instances is the transparency of the issue at hand and the resolutions being worked.
The strike that was called for by the pourakarmikas and the contractors in charge of garbage handling has left Bangalore in a stinky hole of its own making. The civic sense aside (that is a totally different topic in itself), the magnitude of the problem it will lead to seems to have completely escaped the mind of the authorities as well as the groups that called for the strike. The strike called by the Lawyers’ association to protest against the media bias and the subsequent violence is still fresh in the mind of Bangalore’s citizens. Is shortsightedness so rampant among the administrative as well as government employees? What is seen in a country is but only a manifestation of what is observed amongst the leaders of that nation and vice versa.
The shameless manner in which BJP held the parliament session to ransom, disrupting the entire monsoon session over the Coal scam is just another instance of governing bodies resorting to imposed political inaction. This brings me to the second point I would want to draw attention on. “Strike” need not be an active disruption of responsibility; it can as well be a passive process. When the governing body or authority does not exercise his or her power in an optimal manner, which is an act of Strike too. The ruling party may do that by not checking the rampant corruption among its agencies, and the opposition may do the same by actively disrupting the parliamentarian process. Either ways it is the society that shall suffer at large due to the political and economic stagnation that follows suit. Instead of actively involving the ruling party in debating their faulty performance and policies and offering a counter option not only to the administration to adopt but also for the country to opt for, it has resolved to act like an unruly partner set to sink the ship as it did not sail the desired course. Even if the opposition were to come to power, with this attitude, there cannot be much expected of it. If anything, they’ll continue to blame the policies of the previous administration for the problems being faced.
I can only go back to the Indian Freedom Movement and the doyen of this – Mahatma Gandhi to fetch the answers. “Strike” cannot be an act of mere emotional impulse. Whether it is a local agitation or a nationwide strike, unless the groups will pause to understand the impact and the necessity for it, Strikes shall lead to long term harm on the administration of the country. It sets a bad precedent for future generations to resolve to such arm twisting tactics to meet their demands. The marked lack of social involvement and awareness sets the current habit of Strike apart from the freedom movement era. The strikes were regarded as days for peaceful meeting, prayers and awareness generation among the people. The instances of violence were far and between. All of these aspects turned the Strike into a powerful social movement instead of a crippling blow. There was consensus built for the need to be met by the authority. If this need could not be attained through negotiations, then and only then was “Strike” seen as a last option. But even in such instances, there was care taken to ensure that the common man was not bearing the brunt of the agitation. If anything, the cause for the Strike was a reason that the common man could associate himself with. (The nationwide strike against FDI may be considered one such reason). Though the Supreme Court had ruled that strike by government employees were deemed unlawful, the emphasis was placed for it to be the last resort. Whether there really were other means adopted to resolve the conflict has largely been masked from the public before giving a call for Strike.
India is a democratic country where the right to express, including the expression of dissent is upheld. But this expression should follow more mature means than take recluse in the jungle law of service disruption. The growing instances of such behaviors are an absolute cause of worry for the normal functioning of the administrative processes of a large democracy such as India. If the collective consciousness of the elected representatives and associations representing various classes of services cannot be awakened to forego their short term selfish gains in return for a stable, socially beneficial pattern of agitation and conflict management, India shall be reduced to a state of anarchy by one of the most powerful tool that was instrumental to bring her the freedom she coveted. This is the process of how the mythological boons turns into a curse and destroys the bearer.