27 May 2012
Another hartal in Kerala
Kerala had another hartal on Thursday (24 May 2012) to protest the hike in petrol prices. Shops dutifully closed down. Most autos and public transport vehicles stayed off the road. Not to exaggerate too much, everything shut down.
The organizers of the hartal -- the Left parties and the BJP -- sought to foster the illusion that the hartal was voluntary. A tell-tale paragraph in The Hindu
, on the day of the bandh, told the true story: "The LDF convener called upon traders to down shutters and said hospitals, marriages, milk supply and newspapers would remain exempted from the hartal." In plain words, everyone else who dared to open up would have their shops broken up. Nothing voluntary there.
When I took a brief walk outside on the day of the hartal CPI(M) cadres were on the lookout for transgressors. But they had a bored look about them ("Been there, broken that") because it has been a very long time since anyone was foolish enough to violate a hartal.
The CPI(M) is of course not the only party to call for hartals. On 5 May the ruling UDF ordered a hartal to protest against the murder of T.P. Chandrasekharan, a politician who had quit the CPI(M). If Keralites had consented to the hartal, as the organizers of the hartal would no doubt have us believe, their consent must have been tendered in their sleep; Chandrasekharan was killed at 10.30 pm on 4 May and the hartal began at 6 am the next morning. Here too a paragraph in The Hindu
told the true story: "Ambulances, marriage parties, medical shops and milk distribution have been exempted from the hartal."
Some time before this the BJP called a hartal to protest against the inclusion of another Muslim League minister in the Kerala cabinet. Indeed, hartals are so frequent in Kerala that there is a web site devoted entirely to the subject at www.harthal.com
A few months ago, when Baba Ramdev or Arvind Kejriwal referred to politicians as criminals there was a great hue and cry. Some politicians who were interviewed on television seemed genuinely surprised that they should be labeled criminals.
But can you think of anything more criminal than depriving millions of people of their livelihood for a day by the use of force? I can't.