The rupee is crashing and fuel prices are skyrocketing. This has been the case for some time now. On both counts, a ceiling of sorts has been breached. The Centre blames it on external factors, its supporters cite the burden of Dr Manmohan Singh’s bonds. The Opposition is pointing fingers at clear and present mismanagement of the economy.
Beyond this traditional theatre of democratic politics, that the middle classes, the lower rungs of the economic ladder and even a swathe of the business classes are under severe financial stress is doubtless. In fact, what is surprising is that it took the Opposition so long to hit the streets and articulate popular angst—the need was staring them in the face since the shock and awe of November 2016.
In a democracy, the government cannot insulate itself from the popular pulse—and the force of the Opposition voice is key here. The Congress probably had to wait for its president’s pilgrimage to end for political activity of the oppositional kind to begin. The Left too had given a Bharat Bandh call.
India saw patchy to total shutdown depending on who rules the state. Polarised Karnataka saw pitched battles between the Congress and the BJP, particularly in Udupi. Perhaps few states saw a zero effect. The cause being such, even the trading class complied with the shutdown. Some innovative protest methods were witnessed to underline rising fuel costs. Prominent BJP leaders had done donned the same garbs when they were in Opposition. The incumbents on both sides can surely remember and remark upon with wry irony on this periodic role reversal.
But given that all sides are in power in some state or the other, assuaging people’s problems is a collective responsibility. This bandh again showed up who was on which side of the divide: the BJD, TRS and Shiv Sena continued to play footsie with the BJP-led NDA. The TMC in West Bengal gave qualified support, it could hardly share a bandh call with the Left, even though they joined in the protest! So much for Opposition unity.