Bundhs, Hartals, and Power Politics

by Michael E. Brooks
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3).
Nepal is in the midst of an extended “bundh” (strike) called by the political parties whose role in government has been negated by the King. He dismissed the prime minister and parliament some time ago, seizing power for himself. Now the parties have united to create pressure on him to restore democracy.
The tactic of calling strikes to immobilize the country and produce economic hardship and difficulties for the population is common in a number of South Asian countries. Those in opposition to the government call a strike (in Bangladesh the word is “hartal”) on the theory that the people will become upset at the inconvenience and ultimately blame the government, forcing them to resign, change policies, or perhaps be defeated in election. These bundhs and hartals are enforced with threat of force and oftentimes actual violence.
There is great similarity between this theoretically peaceful form of protest and the insurrections and rebellions we have seen in the past century by communist and other rebel groups throughout the world. They have often attempted to bring down a government by destroying the social infrastructure through guerilla warfare, terrorism, and in other ways.
One common factor in all these instances is the desire for power among those employing the tactics. A second is the lack of concern for the well-being of those whom they claim to represent. Death and destruction is justified on the basis of future benefit, but the people never prosper. It is only the upper elite leaders of the movement who satisfy their desires (if they are successful) while the vast majority pay the price.
How different Christianity is! Jesus said to his apostles, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).
In Christ’s Kingdom, service and love of neighbor are the route to influence. The politics of force, selfish ambition, and exercise of power are forbidden.
Would it not be truly wonderful if our countries operated on these principles? If we could truly know that no law would ever be passed or action taken just to benefit our rulers, or consolidate their power?
But it is not just our nations that these principles are designed for. How much better would life in our homes be if every member of each family sought what was best for the other members as much as for himself? Would businesses profit more if every member of management and every worker sought the good of all? If the path to promotion and raise was that one proved genuinely helpful to others?
This is not some impossible utopia. Jesus commanded his followers to practice the same policy which he himself lived by. He proved it possible and he proved that his way benefits all, even the one who gives himself up for others.
“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9).
We can love our neighbors “as ourselves.” We can deny selfish ambition and seek the well-being of all. And when even a few believers in Jesus truly practice his lifestyle, the impact on our world is tremendous.

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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