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Nothing but traffic stoppers

Political rallies needlessly lead to the harassment of lakhs of people, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Nov 27, 2006 02:30 IST

The traffic chaos created because of political rallies in the capital during the first three days of the Parliament session has once again raised an important question: does any political party or group have the right to disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens in the name of democracy? Their points of view can easily be expressed through their representatives in either the Parliament or in state legislative assemblies. Rallies needlessly lead to the harassment of lakhs of people. This may be the most pronounced in Delhi on account of it being the national capital, but it is also rampant in other state capitals, with Kolkata at times being the worst hit.

No one can question the right of any person or political outfit to demonstrate; this is enshrined as part of our fundamental rights. At the same time, political parties and activists must consider the fact that such protests throw normal life out of gear. There are occasions when a few hundred people can make life miserable for lakhs. And if democracy is about numbers, then should a minority override the desire for normality by a collective majority?

It must also be understood that the common citizen, on many occasions, may empathise with the issues being raised by the demonstrators. But when protests disrupt normal life, the exercise can become counter-productive. Thus, political parties have to reach a consensus about alternative methods of protests. The idea of not holding a demonstration is not to suppress anyone’s voice or thoughts, but to drive home the point that alternate methods may prove more effective.

In this day and age of electronic media, people’s voices can easily and instantly reach millions. Therefore, despite the bias that TV channels may have for or against certain groups, they can be used to register one’s protest. For instance, most groups that demonstrate have the political backing of MPs or legislators. In order to raise issues dear to them, these MPs or legislators can organise press conferences. If need be, they can gather at the Gandhi statue inside Parliament. Then, naturally, the demonstration will be captured by the media. In this way, their purpose will be served and other people can be saved from harassment.

It can be argued that a lot of cadre-based parties use rallies to reinforce the ideological beliefs of their activists and remind them of relevant issues. The mobilisation also takes place as a show of strength. But cadres, in several cases, arrive at the capital with the desire to seek employment and settle down in the capital. Thus, rallies serve both sides well. Political parties are happy to get people to participate in the rally and many of those who come are happy to get a free ride to Delhi, even if it involves spending a few hours under the gruelling sun or in severe cold conditions to espouse the cause of the political party that has brought them to the city.

Many political parties insist that those who attend their rallies do so because of their beliefs. But statistics often show that the expansion in population in the capital is not only on account of the rising birth rate in the city, but also due to the lakhs who migrate each year. A large number of the city’s problems are on account of its unchecked growth. The collapsing infrastructure shows that the city is already bursting at its seams and can take no more people. It is like fitting 50 persons in a car that is meant for only five.

The political leadership will have to formulate a policy to check migration and the unplanned growth. Whether it is done by expanding the NCR region or by enacting a legislation, Delhi is indeed crying for help. The city is becoming increasingly unlivable and the fault, to a great deal, is of politicians. The city cannot be allowed to choke to death. The sooner a solution is found, the better it will be for the people.

Coming back to the demonstrations, there was a time when the Boat Club was the converging point of many rallies that took place in the capital. The venue was changed largely because of security reasons following an incident when farmers from western UP, led by Mahinder Singh Tikait, camped on the Boat Club lawns for days and the security personnel found no way of dealing with them.

In the early Nineties, it was decided that rallies could be held either at Burari in North Delhi or behind the Red Fort and the leaders who wished to give memorandum to senior government functionaries could be ferried by the police to Parliament House or to the South or North Block. Gradually, it was decided to allow demonstrators to camp at Jantar Mantar and stop all rallies there. Jantar Mantar was perhaps chosen because most political outfits do not have any mass leader and any gathering at Jantar Mantar cannot be mammoth. In any case, for the bigger rallies, Ram Lila ground was earmarked as the venue.

But many times, political parties, by the virtue of either being part of the ruling coalition or its support groups, insist on marching through the streets, unmindful of the hardships the resultant traffic chaos causes. There is no concern for working hours lost in the process and the way vehicles are made to move in circles by helpless policemen on duty.

Since the Parliament session is on, leaders of various political parties, at the initiative of either the presiding officers or the government, must find time to resolve this issue for all times to come. Citizens cannot be held to ransom by a handful of people and the fundamental rights of a few cannot override the fundamental rights of the majority. Between us.

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First Published: Nov 27, 2006 00:56 IST