‘Enforcing’ and ‘foiling’ hartal the problem, not hartal itself
IT IS not only that ‘economic growth’ and ‘investment’ suffers because of ‘political turmoil’ and ‘hartal’ as the president of the apex trade body rightly pointed out, but people in almost every sector, under different circumstances and to varying degrees, suffer because of hartal. From HSC examinees, to medical patients, to day labourers, everyone is forced to observe, and subsequently suffer because of, hartals, irrespective of their political allegiance, as has been the culture in recent decades. Therefore, the desperation with which the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry is seeking to meet the prime minister and the opposition leader to demand a law banning hartals is quite understandable.
Having said that, it must not be forgotten — and in fact, it needs to be stressed upon at this crucial juncture — that hartal per se is not necessarily something evil. In fact, hartal is a legitimate form of political protest, guaranteed by the constitution, which, carried out in the right spirit, can be a powerful weapon to establish the ‘democratic rights’ of citizens against any form of repressive behaviour of the state. Bangladesh has, in fact, been witness to many such hartals, spontaneously participated by people from all walks of life, be it during the Mass Upsurge in 1969 in the days leading up to the liberation war or during the movement for democracy against the autocratic rule of HM Ershad in the 1980s. The political leadership that called for hartal then did neither need to ‘enforce’ the strike by setting vehicles on fire nor did the government of the day succeed in ‘foiling’ hartal by strong-arming pro-hartal activists. In fact, the evil lies not really in hartal, but in its ‘enforcement’ by forces calling it and its ‘foiling’ by governments.
While we sympathise with the concerns of the business community, it would be downright dangerous to entertain their proposal. Furthermore, given the incumbents’ penchant of suppressing and repressing all forms of political dissent, such a ‘proposal’ may turn into a temporary weapon for the government to further clamp down on the democratic space for dissent. While the suffering deserves attention, such ill-thought out cure can give rise to greater malaise in the future.
Instead of trying to have hartal banned, the FBCCI leadership or, for that matter, all concerned sections of society should work to build awareness and resist the culture of ‘enforcing’ and ‘foiling’ hartals. Such a movement would indeed be welcome. After all, it is a political problem and must be dealt with politically.
comments powered by Disqus