28 Aug - 3 Sep 2015 #773

Bandistan

A strike’s success is no longer judged by how much support it garnered but by the amount of suffering it caused the people
Foreign Hand
BIKRAM RAI


As the major parties throw together a slap-dash constitution that manages to upset everybody another season of strikes kicks off throughout the land. Much of the Tarai has been shut down for weeks, nationwide closures threaten Kathmandu every few days and word’s already out to stock up on essentials in case it gets worse.

A recent eye-catching headline stated Nepal suffered 847 bandas in the past 5 years, an average of 169 per year. Reviewing the police list of major events is like taking a stroll down memory lane. The series of strikes called by the Maoists for ‘Civil Supremacy’ tops the list as the most disruptive (and gets my vote as the most idiotic), made worse by the fact all those months of rioting, taxi-burnings and wasted days achieved absolutely nothing.

Then we have the Madhesi Forum strikes that cut the valley off from the plains, unleashed chaos in the Tarai, and accomplished none of its goals. Baidya’s Maoists made the list for their repeated attempts to sabotage the 2013 election, which took place anyways. You’d think it would be obvious by now, even to fools, that bandas simply don’t work. So why have them?

During the first Jana Andolan that led to democracy in 1990, strikes had genuine support and shops closed voluntarily to send a message to the government. That was the last time this form of protest had any legitimacy. By the mid 90’s intimidation and fear of reprisal kept people off the streets. Once the Maoists began wrecking the country in earnest, bandas degenerated into little more than an exercise in bullying the people and destabilising the government. A strike’s success was no longer judged by how much support it garnered but by the amount of suffering it caused. A banda that allowed a few shops to open and minimal traffic for emergencies was deemed less successful than one that scared everyone off the streets. Maoist strikes soon gained the reputation as the most violent, dangerous, and therefore the most successful, of all.

When your columnist asked friends who’s calling a recent strike no-one knew for sure. Some guessed the RPP on the far right, others suggested Maoist factions on the far left. Apparently it’s no longer considered worth knowing who’s changing all your plans by shutting the country down. Paying attention to such nonsense is depressing and why argue with a free holiday?

There was a time when bandas were held to publicise grievances that were often legitimate but now, with grievances galore, legitimacy or specific reasons no longer matter. Nobody seems to know why most bandas are called, or by who. That leaves us ‘when’, another frequent source of confusion. The most common response to the inquiry ‘Is there a banda tomorrow?’ is ‘Not sure, wait and see’. That raises a philosophical question: If nobody knows who called the banda, or why, or when exactly, does the banda actually exist? Or is there any reason to follow it? Apparently so, as information passes telepathically through society and the streets are clear on strike morning, usually after a few hapless vehicles get torched first hour.

Newspaper reports confirmed a recent two-day shutdown was called by the Baidya Maoists, a splinter faction that boycotted the last election because they have zero support and despise such bourgeois, reactionary, revisionist exercises anyway. They were backed by something called the 30-party alliance, a shadowy group we’ve heard about for months but nobody seems to know (or particularly care) who they are or what they stand for.

Which begs the question: why obey their call for a strike? Perhaps it’s enough that ‘30 party alliance’ sounds important, but a closer look reveals some of the party names are longer than their membership list. Many, in fact, are a party in name only, unrecognised by the Election Commission because they never got enough votes. In most democracies that renders them irrelevant but here it somehow grants them the right to interfere in your life whenever they’re upset.

Reality check: imagine the UK Maoist party or even Labour calling a nationwide banda-cum chakka-jam. They’d be laughed off the stage and anyone caught burning tyres and trashing taxis would be unceremoniously tossed in jail. Better still, our Nepali Maoists should try calling a strike in the land of their hero and see how the Chinese authorities react.

It’s important to remind ourselves that forcing businesses to close and vehicles off the roads through coercion and the threat of violence is not a democratic right but a criminal aberration. Each party in turn displays their total lack of creativity by resorting to the same old bankrupt form of protest that’s wrecked the country and never accomplished anything in the first place. Will they ever learn? In a word, no.

The fact the government does so little to ensure people can go about their daily lives unmolested indicates how little respect they have for those lives. More troubling, perhaps, is the passive acquiescence by most to whatever rumour makes the rounds: without needing to know who, why, or what for, people are quick to give up and stay home. Until and unless that changes, it’s highly unlikely the politicians will ever change their ways or respect the people’s wish for a stable, banda free Nepal.

Read also:

"Strike was a flop"

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