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In this era of violent politics, bandhs and hartals have lost their meaning
On 2 July, 2010, the Odisha High Court had expressed its satisfaction with the Odisha government's affidavit that the BJD will go for a hartal instead of an earlier proposed bandh. The High Court had earlier asked the government of Odisha that how can the BJD go for a bandh despite being the ruling party. After the affidavit, the High Court refused to restrain the hartal. Since then, hartal became the unofficial bandh for the ruling party.

However, what I have understood after exhaustive research is that bandh and hartal are very different in nature. Hartal, also defined as a general strike, means peaceful demonstrations at various public places without infringing the right to movement of any other citizen.

However, in a bandh, a political party calls for closure of private offices, shops and commercial establishments for opposing the ruling government's policies. Here also, no one can be forcibly stopped from movement or opening shops, offices etc. It's up to respective vyapari sangathans (traders organizations) whether they suo motu close their shops/offices/work places etc. Similarly, the private bus operator unions are free to decide whether to ply their vehicles or not during a bandh. Thus, the success of a bandh call depends upon how many citizens support the bandh call.

Both bandh and hartal are integral parts of a democracy and effective tools for expressing dissent. But unfortunately, since past few decades, bandhs have culminated into violence with people being forcibly asked to shut their operations. Commuters travelling in private vehicles are stopped on the roads and trains are stopped en route. When brutal force is used, violence also occurs and ordinary citizens become the worst sufferers. Even public property is destroyed in certain cases. A bandh becomes anti-democratic when citizens' right to freedom of movement is infringed, just for the sake of making the bandh a success.

In this particular case in point, hartals by the BJD have been no different and have been prone to violence and forcible implementation. On Monday also, the BJD government observed a five-hour hartal from 7 am to 12 noon all over Odisha against price rise of petroleum products. Being the ruling party, the goons of BJD stopped vehicles, forced shops to down their shutters and even heckled many commuters who had unknowingly stepped out for their daily chores. A young lady was heckled in the capital city of Bhubaneswar and many commuters faced a lot of problems because they were left stranded at various locations. Even school buses carrying students were asked to stop for five hours and the bus drivers assaulted.

A BJD spokeswoman on a TV channel (Kalinga TV) defended such acts asking that it is the duty of citizens not to step out if there's a bandh/hartal call by a political party. I don't know what that spokesperson wanted to say. Was she saying that we are the kings of the state and if we decide there must be a bandh, all citizens must oblige? Has Naveen Patnaik became the Kim Jong-un of Odisha?

BJD MP Baijayant Panda posted a series of tweets denouncing such goondaism. But then, who cares about what he said?

Now let me ask some questions to the BJD. OK there's a steep rise in petrol and diesel prices. Although, I will not consider it as loot but certainly excessive taxation. Petrol costs around Rs 34 per litre including retailer's commission. Then there is Central excise and state's VAT levied on it. If the BJD thinks that the price is excessive shouldn't it first waive off VAT from petrol and diesel and then ask the Centre to waive off excise duty?

Since petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan has requested the GST council to bring these petroleum products within the purview of GST, shouldn't the BJD government also support it? The point to be noted is that GST council sates have two-thirds votes and the Centre has one-third.

But the BJD will neither reduce/abolish VAT nor will it allow petroleum products to come under the GST net, simply because the government of Odisha wants revenue and at the same time also wants to play politics. But for the sake of petty politics no party should be allowed to keep the interests of common people at ransom. I think people must file PILs in courts accusing the government of Odisha for two violations. Firstly, for observing a violent bandh in the name of observing a peaceful demonstration (hartal). And secondly, for infringing the fundamental rights of citizens despite being the ruling party.

However, it's not a BJD specific problem. It has now become the political culture where all political parties use violent methods just to harass the public. In the name of democratic rights, they, in fact, cease the democratic rights of the common man. It's high time that we the people woke up from the slumber and rejected politics of violence!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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