A strike can teach the working class more in four days more than years of talking could do, the late Arthur Balfour, a former prime minister of the UK, is supposed to have said.
I would like to add to that: Walking around a city during a bandh can teach political correspondents a lot more about the parties they cover than years of those tedious press conferences that they are forced to attend.
Take Thursday, the day that the Opposition National Democratic Alliance declared a bandh to protest against the government’s recent raising of petrol prices. Mumbai’s politicians used Thursday’s bandh to indulge in a range of theatrics, with displays stretching from the banal to the outrageous.
Some squatted on roads, defying baton charges in a bid to block traffic; others drove bullock carts to symbolise how unaffordable fuel has become. Many senior leaders seemed to have tacitly allowed their cadre a free hand in ‘enforcing’ the bandh, and a range of opposition parties followed tried-and-tested methods of protest.
What was different this time was the Bharatiya Janata Party’s newfound exuberance, and the strangely subdued nature of the Shiv Sena’s participation.
The Sena usually flowers during such bandhs, with party members flashing their muscle by shattering windshields and setting sundry items on fire across the city.
This time around, though, the nature of the Shiv Sena’s protest was perhaps best symbolised by the strange sight of shops carrying on their business unhindered around the office of by a well-known Shiv Sainik who has survived assassination attempts for his virulent support of the Hindutva philosophy.
The Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky said that a strike allows itself to break the vow of immobility only for its own purposes.
The behaviour of the Sena suggests that perhaps the party thinks that its purpose has been met. The BMC has been captured; there is no immediate need to show its aggressive self.
It is now the BJP’s hour to gnash its teeth and flex its muscles. Believing itself tantalisingly close to attaining power at the Centre, yet racked by internal dissension, it is the BJP’s turn to show that it is not politically redundant.
The plight of the BJP is aptly summed up by another thought from the great Marxist, who wrote 90 years ago: “It wanted to achieve its aim at whatever cost. It staked too much: the blood of fathers, the bread of children, the reputation of its own strength."