Except in the state of Kerala, the two-day Bharat Bandh can be said to have flopped miserably. A joint forum of trade unions across India has called for a two-day Bharat Bandh, starting at 6 AM on Monday. The Bandh has been called to protest against the Centre’s policies in various sectors. While rail and road transport services were hit in some parts of the country, the overall response to the call for bandh was lukewarm.’
The 48-hours nationwide strike called by different trade unions to protest against government policies kicked off in several states on 28 March. Emergency services have been excluded from the strike.
Bharat Bandh in Punjab
The state that was at the forefront of the year-long farmers’ protest, Punjab saw hardly any enthusiasm from activists over the Bharat Bandh. A majority of the big and small markets, shopping malls and other business establishments in Ludhiana and other cities and towns in the state remained open and there was no strike-like situation.
The bandh call was given by the Confederation of All India Traders against the rising fuel prices and provisions of the GST.
Harkesh Mittal, president of Confederation of All India Traders, Punjab, submitted a memorandum to the authorities in the Sales Tax Department in this regard. Though the president claimed to have got a good response from traders in the district, barring a few traders, none of the shopkeepers in bazaars, including Ghumar Mandi, Bhadaur House, Chaura Bazar and BRS Nagar, downed their shutters to support the call. A few shops in Books Market and the Kesar Ganj complexes were shut for some time, but later many of these were opened too.
Mohinder Aggarwal, president of Punjab Pradesh Vyopar Mandal, here said that the Vyopar Mandal had nothing to do with the bandh call and most of the shops remained open.
Bharat Bandh in Vidarbha, Maharashtra
Farmers in Vidarbha, the region that has been in news for farmer suicides since the UPA era, largely remained indifferent to the Bharat bandh call against the three controversial agriculture laws. Farm produce markets, including the Kalamna agriculture produce market committee (APMC) yard, remained open on Monday with similar reports coming in from other parts of the region.
In Nagpur, workers of political parties forced shopkeepers to down the shutters in market areas even though business resumed in the presence of police after some time.
Leaders of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) that gave the bandh call also admitted that response in Maharashtra was only lukewarm. They blamed the state’s farm leaders who wield influence over farmers for not having come forward with full enthusiasm. There was no support from opposition parties too, said a leader.
Sandip Gitte-Patil, the SKM coordinator, said there are stalwart farm leaders like Bacchu Kadu, who is a minister in the MVA government, or Raju Shetti, a former MP from Swabhimani Paksha and others, but none of them actively participated in the strike. This is one of the reasons the strike could not get a major response in the state, he said.
Shetti said that it was time to introspect whether an alternative strategy to strikes can be explored for pressing the farmers’ demands.
“The response wasn’t much because the farmers were already weary because of the prolonged lockdown. The state’s farmers had already held protests against the three laws earlier, due to which they were not too keen this time,” said Shetti.
Kishore Tiwari, a farm activist and chairman of Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission (VNSSM), said the organisers had not roped in other outfits. Gitte-Patil, however, said calls were given to other farm leaders too.
Atul Senad of the Brokers’ Association at Kalamna said business was usual on Monday with no reduction in arrivals.
Sudhir Kothari, a director in APMC at Hinganghat in Wardha district, said the market there remained open, but it was closed in Samudrapur.
Gajanan Singewar, a farmer in Patanbori, a village near the Telangana border in the Yavatmal district, said the response was lukewarm on the Maharashtra side, but it was almost total at Adilabad in Telangana.
Some impact was seen in the district headquarters and not in villages, said sources.
Arun Wankar of the SKM claimed to have stopped traffic on the Nagpur-Jabalpur highway for around half an hour. Similar protests were held elsewhere too, he said.
In Nagpur, workers of political parties headed to Sitabuldi market after protests near the Gandhi statue at Variety Square.
NCP youth wing leader Shailendra Tiwari said there was some symbolic protest with a couple of shopkeepers supporting the cause. Some of the banners were damaged by political workers, but no untoward incident had taken place, he said.
The political activists had closed shops in Gokulpeth Market, Gandhibagh, Cotton Market, Kamal Chowk, Itwari and such places for a brief period before police presence had helped the shopkeepers resume business.
NCP city president Duneshwar Pethe said party workers from different outfits had assembled to support the farmers, who had been agitating for over a year on the outskirts of Delhi, but the union government seems to be in no mood to pay heed to them. “The dictatorial attitude of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is abhorring. His indifference to the struggle of the farmers prompted us to unite against him,” he said.
Bharat Bandh in Kerala: The only success story
Government offices in Kerala reported thin attendance today despite a government order issued yesterday, stating that the unauthorised absence of employees participating in the strike would be treated as dies non following an intervention by the Kerala High Court. Less than 200 employees turned up for duty at the state secretariat.
In many other government offices, agitating employees, belonging to both the ruling LDF and opposition UDF, allegedly prevented others from appearing for duty. Meanwhile, shops and establishments continued to remain closed in most parts of the state, with agitators allegedly stopping trucks and even private vehicles.
The order issued by the chief secretary said that pay for the days on which the strike is taking place would be withheld from the salary for next month. No leave would be granted to employees and teachers on strike days except for unavoidable reasons. It said people indulging in violence during the strike days would be prosecuted. Provisional recruits who keep away from duty during the strike would be removed from service. The order directed the state transport corporation to ensure service to enable employees to reach offices.
The order, however, did not appear to have much effect on ensuring attendance at government offices. At the state secretariat, less than 200 employees turned up for duty against a staff strength of 4,800. In many other government offices, agitating employees, belonging to both the ruling LDF and opposition UDF, allegedly prevented others from appearing for duty.
Leaders of the ruling CPI(M) came out against the high court directive. Party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan compared the court’s attitude to saying “shut your mouth and do your job”. “Employees should be ready to strike, abandoning their salary for two days. The court intervention is a challenge to the democratic system. However, the strike is not sponsored by the government,’’ he said.
CPI(M) Kannur district secretary MV Jayarajan said a ghost of the British era has caught hold of the judiciary. “What has come through the words of the court is the voice of the Emergency era,” he said.
Meanwhile, even as CPI(M) leaders allegedly prevented the movement of people and forced closure of offices in several places, they ensured that works related to the Party Congress, slated for next month, continued in Kannur. “Only minor works are underway. Most of the work is over. Only some finishing work of the venue is going on,” Jayarajan said.
People in Bengal irritated by strike
In West Bengal, protesters yet again stopped trains at several locations throwing routine life out of gear. The issue reached the parliament as Trinamool Congress member Saugata Roy claimed that the strike had received a massive response and reflected the unhappiness of the people with the policies of the government.
“Government should understand that people are unhappy over its policies to sell out everything,” Roy said in the Lok Sabha.
However, among the people at large, the response to the call for Bharat Bandh was negative. A video went viral on social media showing a train passenger hurling expletives at the activists who were blocking the tracks.
To prevent the bandh from succeeding, the Mamata Banerjee-led government had on 26 March issued an order announcing that all state government offices would remain open and employees would have to report for duty during the days of the strike. The order added that the leaves would be treated as “dies non (not counted)” and “no salary will be admissible”.
This position of the ruling party, however, marks a major shift from the time when it was in the Opposition and often backed calls for bandhs to have an impact in Bengal politics. . Its support for bandhs at the time was in line with the Left Front’s policy of calling strikes to protest against the union government. Under the left, bandhs had become a defining image of the state.
But with the courts often criticising the disruptions caused by strikes, the Trinamool Congress took an anti-strike position after coming to power, thus depriving the opposition of a potent weapon with which to corner the government.
Bharat Bandh in Odisha
The two-day Bharat Bandh called by the trade and labour unions received lukewarm support in the State on Monday, only leading to minor disruption of road transportation, rail and other services on the first day. The protest that began at 6 AM remained peaceful by and large.
Members of various trade unions staged a ‘rail roko’ at Bhubaneswar Railway Station for a short period affecting the schedule of a few trains, while a road blockade on National Highway (NH)- 16 at Acharya Vihar led to disruption of road transport during noon. A number of buses and trucks remained stranded on both sides of the National Highway at Jayadev Vihar.
Passengers at the Baramunda bus stand were stranded for at least two to three hours as buses remained off the road affecting public transport.
The city bus service was also affected as a group of auto drivers blocked the movement of Mo Bus in Patia and other parts of the city asking why they would ply when three-wheelers have not been permitted to operate during the bandh.
Trade Union leaders also staged road blockades in different parts of the city including Master Canteen square, Raj Mahal square, and Acharya Vihar seeking fulfilment of the 12-point charter of demands including regulation of fuel price and other essentials as well as a curb on privatisation of government-owned companies.
Apart from the State capital, Bandh partially affected traffic and transportation in parts of Cuttack, Berhampur, Balasore, Rourkela and other places. Members of CITU, AITUC and other trade unions reportedly tried to breach the security cordon in order to stage ‘rail roko’ at Berhampur Railway Station.
The bandh, however, affected banking, insurance, income tax and postal services. Petrol bunks that remained closed in some of the places including the State Capital during the morning for security reasons reopened in the afternoon.
While essential services continued without any disruption, many educational institutions remained shut. A number of universities including Utkal, Ravenshaw and Ramadevi postponed their exams scheduled on the day to avoid any inconvenience to the students during the bandh.
Demands by trade unions
Among the demands put forth by the forum are
- withdrawal of labour codes
- stopping privatisation of public sector units
- introduction of social welfare schemes for labourers in the unorganised sectors
- financial aid to workers’ families
- reduction of taxes on petrol and diesel
- strong measures to curb inflation
- equal pay for similar jobs done by contract labourers
- implementation of the old pension scheme
The All India Bank Employees’ Association supported this Bharat Bandh to protest against the government’s plan to privatise public sector banks, and the Banking Laws Amendment Bill, 2021.
Central trade unions that are part of the joint forum include the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC), Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Labour Progressive Federation (LPF), and United Trade Union Congress (UTUC). However, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) has kept its distance from the strike.