Limits of freedom

Tamil Nadu came to a virtual standstill on Monday despite a Supreme Court directive against a state-wide bandh called by the ruling DMK front with public transport services staying off the roads and commercial establishments deciding to remain shut. Enough reason to impose President’s Rule in the state? The apex court’s peremptory statement to this effect is surprising considering that it has, till now, been the staunchest supporter of using Article 356 judiciously and only in the most extreme circumstances. Yet, in spite of the Supreme Court’s somewhat inexplicable attitude in the case, it must be said that the bench hearing the AIADMK petition on Sunday had only the nation’s interests in mind while holding the bandh ‘unconstitutional’.

Critics will argue and indeed have done so each time a court of law has come down heavily on a political party for attempting to disrupt normal life in a state or city that the Supreme Court’s stand goes against the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution. They also feel that it takes away from the people a legitimate means of protest. But after 60 years of being held hostage because of the use of such tactics by self-serving political parties, ‘bandhs’ have now come to represent, for most, something of a nuisance. For a nation that now knows its potential and promise in the globalised world, a day lost means having to involuntarily take a step backwards.

It is no one’s case that the right of an individual, or a group, to lodge a protest be taken away. And there are many ways to do this, and make oneself heard, without having to paralyse normal life altogether. Certainly, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s call for a hunger strike subsequent to the SC ruling cannot be faulted. However, over the years, political organisations, especially those in power, have generally tended to use bandhs as a show of strength, using muscle power to forcibly impose their will on the people. The state of anarchy this results in has been seen to stem progress. It cannot, and must not, be allowed to have a place in a nation that is trying to make a mark on the world.

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