Last Sunday, Thane saw a coercive bandh called by the Shiv Sena and the BJP to protest against the alleged kidnapping of a BJP corporator ahead of the city’s mayoral elections. Eventually, the ‘kidnapped’ corporator turned up on the day of the election and voted in favour of the Sena-BJP alliance, but during the brief period that she was incommunicado, Shiv Sainiks and BJP activists held Thane to ransom.
Fourteen buses belonging to the state transport corporation and the Thane civic body, and numerous auto-rickshaws, were damaged during the violent shutdown, and Thaneites returning from work late Saturday night faced serious trouble as the stoning of vehicles began right outside Thane railway station around midnight.
Then, in the morning, groups of Sainiks, as is their long-established habit, went around town, stoning more vehicles, manhandling people who dared to lift the shutters of their shops and commercial establishments, and generally generating fear in the minds of ordinary citizens, a majority of whom had just voted the saffron alliance to power in the civic body.
Fortunately, as the bandh was on a Sunday, huge numbers of people were not caught in the midst of the turmoil.
But the point is not how much state property was destroyed, how much financial activity crippled and how many people were hassled and hit by the bandh enforcers. It is that in a democratic society, no individual or political outfit has the right to force a bandh, to touch or assault even a single person in the name of that bandh and to intimidate the populace.
The Shiv Sena has been using the bandh to demonstrate its muscle power for four decades now; encouraged by its recent successes in the Mumbai and Thane municipal elections, it has re-started its coercive tactics.
The Sena-BJP alliance should not only not be allowed to use coercion in this manner, it must be made to pay for the damage done to public and private property. Some public-spirited individual or group would do our society a service if they moved court in this matter and demanded compensation from the bandh-enforcers to all those who suffered loss of property — the Thane civic body, the state transport corporation and rickshaw-owners included.
Unfortunately it is not possible to calculate compensation in the case of those who are intimidated, but as we are sure there will be no word of apology, but an entirely misplaced sense of achievement, displayed by the bandh-enforcers, at least damages claimed for computable losses will be some punishment for an objectionable act.
There is already a precedent in place. The Bombay High Court had ordered the Shiv Sena and BJP to pay Rs 20 lakh each as compensation to the state government for a Mumbai bandh they had called on July 30,
2003 in the wake of the Ghatkopar bomb blast on July 28 that year. The PIL filed against the bandh had then said the shutdown had cost the city Rs 50 crore.
Numerous other bandhs called over the years by the same political organisations have cost Mumbai hundreds of crores. Besides, the Supreme Court had made it clear in the late 1990s that forced bandhs are illegal, and it has prohibited political parties from resorting to such means of agitation. So anyone who enforces illegal bandhs should be made to pay up.