Hartals are not uncommon to Malayalis. They come often, in various forms; sometimes as protests against price rise and fuel hike, sometimes against communalism and even sometimes when a political party just wants to show its strength. The political climate in Kerala is also to blame. When you have two alliances led by strong parties with deep organisational bases, ensuring a successful hartal and disturbing the common man and woman on the street is a cakewalk.
Today’s hartal is one that’s sponsored by the Congress against the CPM-led state government and the BJP-ruled Centre. It is meant to be an agitation against price rise, frequent fuel hikes and the problems surfacing after demonetisation and ‘improper’ implementation of the Goods and Services Tax. Now, whether a dawn-to-dusk hartal in the state will sweep these problems under the rug with magical power is a difficult question to answer.
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But one thing is for sure. Malayalis, over the years, have learnt to tackle a hartal. Just like how we prepare ahead of a cyclone or a hurricane, the Kerala society is ahead of the game now.
“Hartal is like a festival for lazy people and drunkards. It’s like a celebration. They buy booze in advance and drink through the day,” Ani, a daily-wage worker in Kochi, told this reporter.
“Since today is Monday, it’s like an extended weekend,” he added.
Families, who like to travel, also make the best of the situation by leaving on Friday evenings to nearby hill stations, and returning by Tuesday mornings – a perfect three-day ‘mini vacation’ fashioned out of a hartal. It’s ironical that they choose to travel in their car burning fuel especially when the Opposition is holding the hartal to protest against fuel hike.
In fact, viral mock clips are flashing through WhatsApp and Facebook in which a man is heard earnestly asking a Congress leader whether they could consider extending the hartal to Tuesday as well because he was planning a ‘long-trip.’ With Deepavali arriving on a Wednesday, people would have really liked a hartal on a Tuesday. A two-day weekend would have into a five-day bonanza.
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That’s the kind of slapstick humour that has come to be associated with a hartal, otherwise meant to be a serious political agitation on real issues facing the common man.
At one time, before the Internet and Netflix became the order of the day, Malayalis would stock up on movie CDs and DVDs when they hear a hartal is approaching. What better way to spend the day than watch back-to-back hits of Mohanlal and Mammootty.
Even as political parties in other states stay clear of calling a bandh out of fear of provoking public wrath, in Kerala, it seems it has worked out well so far. Malayalis have, over the years, learnt to say: ‘You want a hartal? Bring it on!’