There is little else Indians love than holding a rousing rally. And this is the season of rallies. So it is quite a common sight in our cities to see rallies snaking along main thoroughfares expressing resentment of everything from onion prices to corruption to land scams. This, many may justifiably argue, is our right as citizens of a vibrant democracy. But, the problem arises when one person’s right to complain publicly about the price of onions impedes another’s right to get to work. Or worse still, to get to hospital in time.
Over the years, rallies have become so commonplace that many have either got inured to the disruptions they cause or have got incensed by these. With the proliferation of parties and the growth of coalition politics, rallies have also become shows of strength aimed at rattling opponents. In the city of those past masters of rallies, hartals, bandhs and other forms of protest, Kolkata, many productive days are lost by people taking to the streets. A petition is pending in the Kolkata High Court seeking an end to these often meaningless protests. The Kerala High Court had earlier banned public rallies on roadsides, a decision which the Supreme Court upheld. It is no one’s contention that legitimate forms of protest should not be allowed or that the courts should be dragged into this. But, it is quite possible that not everyone’s idea of protest is to hold up traffic and prevent the movement of people who might prefer other forms of expressing their dissatisfaction.
Since rallies are not going to vanish overnight, city administrations could review the practice of allowing rallies at all times of the day with the police merely concerning itself with maintaining the peace. Rallies are clearly held at times when they are thought to make the most impact on the public. But when the public begins to consider them a nuisance, their utility value diminishes. It would be better if it became incumbent on rally organisers to give advance notice and for authorities to be able to regulate the time and location where it could be held. If we had a Hyde Park where protestors go and rail agai-nst Queen and country, we wouldn’t have such a problem. But we don’t so we have to best examine how to accommodate the interests of all concerned. Otherwise, the courts will intervene as in Kerala and shut off what should be a legitimate avenue of protest. It would be also in the interest of habitual rallyists to use this weapon judiciously so as to maximise its efficacy. As we all know, the best things come in small doses.