THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Sangh Parivar outfits have begun to virtually own ‘hartal’ as a way of protest in the state; of the 63 hartals that were enforced this year, the call for 25 of them was given by them. It seems fitting, too, because the noun ‘hartal’ originated in Modi-land, in Gujarat. The CPM, despite being the ruling party, has given the call for 11 ‘hartals’. The UDF had made eight ‘hartal’ calls. A number of regional outfits too had made calls. On June 9, the state witnessed a violent tango of sorts when both the BJP and the CPM declared ‘hartal’ in Kozhikode on the same day after vandalising each other’s offices. The shutdown spilled over to the next day in Kozhikode after BMS, the labour wing of RSS, called for a ‘hartal’ on Saturday alleging CPM violence.
There has been a spike in the number but the character of ‘hartals’ have undergone a change this year. There was just a single statewide hartal this year, the one called by the opposition UDF on April 5 to protest against the police handling of Mahija, Jishnu Prannoy’s mother. The remaining 62 were local affairs. Even deaths of party workers, which even a year ago would have triggered a statewide hartal, provoked just district- or panchayat-level response. The altered design of a ‘hartal’ has bamboozled the activists of ‘Say NO to Harthal’, which is mostly a city-based campaign. “When we began the campaign in 2010, there were 10-12 statewide hartal calls. But over the years the calls dwindled to two or three. But this year, surprising us, the call to hartals were limited to local areas,” said advocate Raju P Nair, a member of SNTH campaign. The campaign will now have to spread its activities locally.
The financial impact, too, has suddenly become vague. Three years before, in a written reply to the Assembly, the then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that a day of ‘hartal’ cost the state Rs 900 crore by way of lost productivity. No official assessment of a regional 'hartal' has yet been made. The estimated financial loss will perhaps be felt, but only at a later date. But the impact of a shutdown will be tough and immediate on the unorganised sector. A flash call for ‘hartal’, like the one called by the BJP on June 8 in Thiruvananthapuram district, would mean hundreds of self-employed men and women would lose their day’s investment. “They would have borrowed money at high rates of interest to stock vegetables or fish or other perishable items for the next day. With no one to buy their goods, these poor people would end up with unsold goods and a higher debt burden,” said Sonia George of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).
The seriously ill who have a prior appointment in a government hospital, too, would be worse off. “What if the date they have been given for an MRI scan happens to be the date a political party has called for a hartal? They will have no choice but to get an appointment some two months later,” Mr Raju said. If it was thought that ‘hartals’ could not be wished away, SNTH’s Raju seems to have zeroed in on a magic wand. “A modern transportation system like Metro Rail could perhaps dampen the politician’s hunger for ‘hartal’. These systems, which cannot be physically blocked, might perhaps embolden the public to come out into the city in large numbers defeating the ‘hartal’ call,” he said.