May 23rd, Just a day after the Budget session of Parliament ended, The Union Government announced a hike in petrol prices-that too a steep hike of Rs 7.5 per litre. Not surprisingly, the common man is up in arms and various parties in the opposition too have called for protests. Within minutes of the announcement of this hike, The LDF in Kerala calls for a “dawn to dusk Hartal” on Thursday. The Hartal we had yesterday; and this is like the n-th hartal in our state for hike in petroleum prices, was of course, “successful” as political leaders put it. I guess the greater it disrupts the daily routine of the aam aadmi, the more “successful” it is :P.
What beats me is this- Within an hour of the announcement of the hike, virtually all the roads are chock-a-block with traffic, Traffic jams everywhere and helpless traffic policemen trying to regulate the traffic, but in the process only creating more chaos :D. So why the sudden traffic Jams- Super long queues outside every petrol pump on the one hand with everybody trying to get their last few litres of ‘cheaper’ petrol; and even longer queues in front of the government-run liquor shops owing to the next day being hartal and therefore, people wanting to make merry on the Holiday. What’s the idea anyway-To save up some money on the petrol and spend it on booze instead? 😛
At the Petrol Stations there’s a lot of commotion-Angry drivers shouting at the staff in the petrol station, The staff in the petrol pump trying hard to regulate the traffic, and in some cases rationing the quantity of petrol given per person so that they don’t run out. Then there is Fuel Hoarding- Some pumps closed down saying they would open only past midnight when the new rates would take effect. Outside the liquor shops however-one of the most disciplined queues you can ever find in our country :P. I haven’t seen people stand with so much patience and in neat lines in perfect order even at Railway booking counters or the Passport office :D. Why doesn’t the same queue system apply at these places too I wonder.
How does calling for a Hartal change anything anyway? ‘Hartals’ were first used as a means of protest against the British in pre-independent India. The concept made sense then-No work on one day would mean some loss of income to the British empire. Even after that, ‘Hartals’ were observed to condole the deaths due to calamities etc. or the demise of great men. But how does it make sense now-By choosing to not work on ‘Hartal’ days, you are only losing out on your own income. ‘Hartals’ have become such a routine affair today-Any hike, Any political disturbances, and immediately political parties call for a Hartal. Immediately, Universities postpone exams, various Offices and schools declare that they will remain closed due to no public transport. What is worse is that the common man is forced to sit tight at home and not venture out as there have been incidents when people who ventured outside on such days have been brutally stoned and hurt. Vehicles are senselessly set on fire. When I was in school, we had a whole week off thanks to some strike by a student political body due to some engineering student committing suicide(They say the student committed suicide for totally different reasons altogether, and not the causes the student body was fighting for; God only knows what the truth is :|). Every hartal and shops, schools, offices all remain shut-So much loss to businessmen and self-employed professionals. So many people stranded at the airport and railway and bus-stations; it also leads to people wanting to urgently get to hospitals, having a tough time.
In the year before last, it is estimated that Hartals have caused a loss of about 200 Crores to the state! Have we ever really achieved anything by declaring days as ‘hartals’? Who is to pay for all these losses, when are we going to stop ‘celebrating’ Hartals? When are we ever going to learn?!
Why don’t we resort to other means of protest-say write a letter or something peaceful like that? But then again, it is going to take a long long time before such means of protest are recognised and looked into in a country like ours. For this same hike, I read today that there’s supposed to be a ‘Bharat Bandh’ coming up on the 31st of this month. Oh well! For most of the so-called ‘Bharat Bandhs’, it finally boils down to Bandh in just a couple of states-Kerala always 😀 and mostly West Bengal too besides one or two others. Our state has also cut down the sales tax for petrol-there is thus a rollback of 1.63 rupees in our state for now.
Increasingly, there is Some awareness among shop-keepers etc and the general public; and some sections now try to carry on with work as usual despite hartals. Hope this awareness spreads to other sections too-and public transport operators deciding to ply vehicles even on these days is Half the battle won-as that’ll enable schools, colleges and offices to work as usual :). Hope people begin to see the pointlessness of ‘hartal’ days and start objecting to them strongly-Only then can something be done about this menace!