The Bharat Bandh of September 10 should have been a resounding success, given that over 20 Opposition parties who had endorsed this agitation against the high prices of petroleum products account for over half of the popular vote. The reality was more prosaic. Punjab had declared a holiday and its rural areas are in poll mode, making an assessment tricky. But an enthusiastic response was detected in just a quarter of Haryana’s 20-odd major towns. The pattern was repeated elsewhere. The bandh was reported successful in a handful of states, including Bihar, Maharashtra and Karnataka, whereas the Opposition went through the motions elsewhere.
The reason for the tepid response in many parts of the country on an issue that has roiled the man on the street may be linked with the Opposition’s resolve to observe only a partial six-hour shutdown to avoid unduly inconveniencing the common man. But the temptation to be seen as the undisputed leader of the stir may have led to a lack of perceptible coordination with other Opposition parties after the All India Congress Committee endorsed September 10 as the day for the bandh. The Congress put its best foot forward by fielding former PM Manmohan Singh to launch a curtain-raiser of an attack. But the aggregation of Opposition leaders on a common platform, an image that sets the tone for the cadres to emulate on the streets, was missing.
Also missing was a considered and sympathetic response from the ruling party. While acknowledging that the people were facing ‘momentary difficulty’, there was hardly any attempt to offer a solution unless the BJP is waiting to spring a surprise at an opportune moment. Statistical skullduggery by the BJP’s social media cell will humour and convince only the camp followers. The Opposition does have a major repair job at hand but the BJP may have lost sympathy after taking recourse to the same arguments it had stridently decried when it was in the Opposition.