This week, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and some unlikely allies, the Communists, brought much of India to a standstill. As was mentioned by one of my fellow Indian Decade bloggers earlier this week, they had called a nationwide strike, or bandh, to protest the ruling coalition government’s decision to decontrol petrol prices.
As a consequence of this strike some 250 trains were cancelled, over a 100 flights disrupted and some 600, 000 vehicles stayed off the road. The commercial losses ran into the billions of rupees as wholesale markets across the country remained closed and the trading volume at the nation’s leading stock exchange in Mumbai plummeted.
Ostensibly, the BJP and the Communists were expressing their concern about the brunt of the increase oil prices on the ordinary consumer. Yet the economic hardship that this nationwide strike imposed on hapless daily wage earners never crossed the minds of the political luminaries of these politicians across the political spectrum. Nor for that matter, did it dawn on them that the strike also meant the loss of vast revenues that the government so desperately needs to close a yawning budget deficit.
Not content with the damage that they’ve done to the nation’s economy, not to mention the lives of the working poor, the stalwarts who organized this protest are now considering further actions to force the government to back down. Populist politics, of course, is hardly limited to India. However, the fecklessness of this strategy—especially in a poor country—simply underscores the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of much of India’s political opposition. Obviously, even after 60 years of democracy, a range of political parties and their leaders haven’t come to terms with one of the most basic principles of a democratic polity, namely the idea of a loyal opposition.