Whose hartal is it anyway?

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Oct. 31. The hartal call given by the Quit Kerala Prakshobha Samithy against the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the way the mainstream political parties, opinion leaders and the police have responded to it appears to indicate a consensus of the mainstream against a voice of dissent from seemingly non-political sections over an issue that has been agitating everybody from Government employees to headload workers.

Almost everybody in Kerala has been going hammer and tongs against the ADB over the last one year and the State has already witnessed several agitations over the issue. The CPI(M) is opposed to it. So is the CPI and the rest of the LDF. There are also several individual opinion leaders in society, acceptable to both the LDF and UDF, who are concerned about the way the ADB loan and the accompanying conditions would impact the State polity and society. But everybody is against the November 1 hartal.

Now, that raises the question whether a hartal call is the exclusive right of political parties. Especially because the Director General of Police, K.J. Joseph, has been prompt in issuing a widely- publicised warning to the hartal organisers against using intimidation, coercion, mental or physical force to enforce the hartal. Of course, Mr. Joseph had done that at least on one occasion earlier, but few got to see it. That PDP activists ran amok in the capital city on the day on which his directive was publicised must tell its own story.

For the record, the Quit Kerala Prakshobha Samithy has declared time and again that this would be a `democratic hartal' and there would be no attempt to enforce it. The Samithy has called upon the people to participate in it on their volition. But, for the police, they are a soft target who can be intimidated with such stern warnings.

Tomorrow's hartal is certain to be a failure. But, may be, for the first time in the State's history, a failed (or defeated) hartal would be a more eloquent articulation of public ire against a socio-political issue than hartals of the past that brought misery to the people.

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