I was expecting this. The Economic Times shrieks: "Bharat is left badly bruised as age-old bandh politics over fuel price hike hits industrial activity and disrupts normal life." It's sister publication The Times of India is a little restrained when it says: "Opposition parties on Monday joined forces to enforce a countrywide strike against rising prices, in an effective protest that marked the return of a hot-button political issue and is being seen as a wake-up call for the UPA regime."
Well, for those who have not been following the Monday developments in India, opposition parties had given a call for a nationwide protest (we call it 'bandh') against high inflation and a sharp increase in fuel prices. The bandh as a newspaper headline says: put India on hold.
All through on Monday, most of the TV channels went on chanting the Corporate mantra: "Monday's Bharat bandh, which disrupted life, stopped work, created loss and damaged property, not so much articulated democratic rights as abused them." All of them quoted imaginary figures of collateral damage that the three industry lobbying groups put up. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) estimated a loss of Rs 3,000 crore; the Assocham raised it to Rs 10,000 crore; and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) put both the figures together and came out with a magical estimate of Rs 13,000 crore.
If a day's protest has cost the country Rs 13,000 crore, industry lobbyists should demand making it compulsory to work for seven days a week. Why should we have a five-day week? In fact, FIICI should even considering seeking an extension in work hours to 11 pm at night.
Nevertheless, the media's reaction is a reflection of what India Inc thinks. Just like the UPA-II, which actually is a government of the industry, by the industry and for the industry. So let us not unnecessarily worry about what the media says or be carried away by the 'pro-people' cliches on TV by our impotent netas.
During the day, I was asked by a TV channel whether bandh is the right form of protest. My response was that there are only two ways of expressing your anger and protesting against the high-handedness of the government: using the democratic form of protest or by picking up the gun like the naxals have done in 230 districts of the country.
The next question obviously is that it it is the people who bear the brunt of such protests. My answer is that in any case people have been reeling under the stupendous rise in prices for over a year now. They have been bearing the brunt silently. How long do you want the poor to go to bed hungry unable to buy two square meals a day? What about those millions who cannot afford to buy their daily quota of dal and chapati?
Anyway, the media decries bandh. The media also slams the opposition for disrupting the proceeding in Parliament if ever the Opposition parties come together on popular issues. What is the choice then? Should the people be left to adopt militant means? Or the media expects people to write letters to the editor? Even that space has disappeared in most newspapers, with hardly few inches of space left for public feedback.
It is not only the newspapers which have drastically curtailed space for public opinion, increasing privatisation is actually taking away the right of expression. Let me illustrate this. Some years back, I was travelling to Manila to attend a CGIAR conference. In the afternoon, we heard slogans outside the hotel. These were a group of farmers and activists who were protesting against the corporatisation of agriculture. Within minutes I found that the police arrived telling the protesters that they can't demonstrate inside the hotel's boundary walls.
Fine. The protesters moved to the road outside. They were told that the road was also a private property. They then went back to the small park in front of the hotel. They were then told that the park was also a private property.
In reality, India Inc is trying to take away all democratic spaces. They do not want any finger to be raised at the usurping of resources that the business and industry is engaged in. The economic loot that goes on with the support of the government is something they don't want to stop. Obviously the share prices go up, and that keeps the middle class happy. Those who groan, do it silently. But with the dominant media on their side, Corporates are trying to muffle all democratic options and voices. In other words, it is actually an assault on the fundamental right of expression.
We are therefore at a very crucial stage in history. If we let the debate over democratic norms be defined by the Corporates and their employees (and I am including the economists in this list), it is time to say goodbye to democracy.