Bharatiya Janata Party can definitely claim the credit for having convinced the people about the absurdity of hartal as a form of protest. The reason concocted for the hartal on Friday in Kerala makes one thing clear again: how irresponsibly and silly the BJP performs in such matters. One cannot help congratulating that party for its knack of converting any opportunity of a hartal for either making people aware of their existence or to prove before party folks and outsiders the efficacy of the leadership.
A man named Venugopalan Nair commits suicide by pouring kerosene on himself at 1.30 am on Thursday, and then rushes towards the tent where BJP leader CK Padmanabhsan was sitting in strike. The people there douse the fire and the police take him to hospital. Eventually he dies by evening. Things thereafter were happening at great speed. Before any body could make out his identity or his intention, BJP declares a hartal, on the sole reason that he was rushing to the pandal chanting Ayyappa sharanam. Initially Venugopalan was thought to be a BJP man, but soon it transpired that he was not. In fact it was the party that diagnosed the reason for his suicide: his anguish about the governmemnt stance on Sabarimala. And that was the premise on which the hartal call was made. It was only later that the dying statement of the deceased was released. In the statement recorded by the doctor and the magistrate there was no mention of Sabarimala or the Ayyappa temple. All he said was that he was fed up with life. The police infer that the suicide was prompted by personal reasons. That is corroborated by the brothers of the deceased as well. In spite of all this, BJP which in a hurry had made him a 'balidani', did not bother to correct itself. But the price the people of the state had to pay for that was no small.
It is not for the first time that BJP observes a fake hartal. During the conflict in Sabarimala, when the dead body of an Ayyappa devotee, Sivadasan was found in the forest, the party jumped into the scene and went ahead declaring hartal in Pathanamthitta district. Their claim was that Sivadasan had died of injuries from police action on 16 and 17 October. But his son later clarified that his father had returned home from Sabarimala, he had telephoned his family on 19th and went missing only after that. The result: people of the district just got a gift of a fake hartal from the party. When BJP declared another hartal on the first day of Mandala pilgrimate on the 1st of the Malayalam month of Vrichikam, the time was midnight. The people including the pilgrims were put to no small disruption. When the leaders went for protest in Sabarimala, the party created road blocks far and wide in the name of an arrest. Now with the latest case, when BJP made the incident of a man committing suicide because of family problems or personal reasons, it has set a model for made-up hartal. Earlier when there was another fake hartal, which was later named 'WhatsApp hartal', the man caught for giving that hartal call was found to have links with Sangh Parivar outfits.
This time BJP not only made hartal look ridiculous. The same people who had given a call to shut down shops and block traffic, also declared an exemption for a certain film's release! The absurdity is all too clear: business can be shutdown; essential travel, functions and even medical treatment can be stopped by force; examinations can be made to be postponed; service sector including government offices can come to a halt. But the enthusiasm of film fans cannot be restricted. This is not to be viewed as merely fanciful. In it lies the model of priorities of those who enforce hartal in current times. In fact hartal is only the new name given to bandh when the court banned the latter. Even if we can forget the financial loss in favour of its political freedom, the damage it does to human rights, right to travel and public property cannot be ignored. If hartal becomes ludicrous at the hands of BJP, one cannot lose sight of the fact that hartal by other parties do lead to violence and denial of rights. In a way hartal has become a tool for any party to establish its presence in society in an easy manner, but in a way causing severe consequences: a form of strike where the organizers have nothing to lose. Political parties and organizations that rely most on this form of protest, make us aware of their own hollowness through its use. The society well realizes that those who make hartal their only political action, have neither politics nor action.