“What do they want?” a middle-aged man, his red t-shirt drenched in sweat, was venting his ire as he sipped on his glass of sweet lemon at a juice outlet in New Road. “Aren’t they saying to us that it doesn’t make a whit of difference to them whether we have to walk for hours in searing heat while those who can afford expensive vehicles cruise about in their luxury cars?” His anger was completely justified. The strike called by transport entrepreneurs on Friday undoubtedly hit the poor and the middle-class people who rely on public transportation to get around the hardest.
Earlier, it was the CPN-UML-affiliated Youth Association Nepal (YAN) that imposed four hours of strike in the morning for four consecutive days, demanding that PM Baburam Bhattarai resign immediately. These are just a couple of examples of how little various interest groups in Nepal think about the great inconvenience their disruptive protest methods might cause the vast majority of the population.
YAN’s justification for strike in the early hours was that it would have a minimal impact on the daily lives of people, as opposed to a strike called during the busier hours in daytime. That was hardly the case. Perhaps the organizers didn’t even consider how studies of school students attending morning classes or those who have to catch early morning buses to get to their schools on time would be affected. For their part, the transport entrepreneurs, who barred all public vehicles from the streets on Friday, seem to believe that public vehicle operators have been hard done by fickle traffic police with undue authority to fine traffic rule breakers.
Irrespective of the legitimacy of their grievances, in a democratic society it is hard to justify highly-disruptive activities like strikes and bandas imposed by rowdy brickbats-totting youths patrolling the streets. The fact that the organizers can only ‘call’ for a banda and it is entirely up to the common people whether or not to honor it has been completely missed.
In these highly volatile times, it might be unrealistic to hope for a complete abolition of disruptive protests, not the least because any such crackdown might soon assume autocratic tendencies aimed at suppressing all forms of dissent. But surely, the political parties and their affiliates can commit to giving a better measure of themselves as responsible citizens. For instance, what can be the justification for victimizing school-going children who have absolutely nothing to do with the grievances for which their normal studies are being disrupted?
In the larger picture, the time has come for political leadership to disown disruptive protest measures. It is up to them to train a responsible cadre-base that values people’s democratic right to move about in a free and fearless atmosphere. As things stand, it is the top leadership itself that is goading the rank and file to take to the streets. While every citizen has certain inalienable rights, they also have certain responsibilities towards the state. This applies to all citizens, but especially to our errant political leaders