Sunday, November 23, 2008

Parties must pledge now to keep rallies off city roads

Parties must pledge now to keep rallies off city roads
H S BALRAM


Insensitivity, thy name is politician. The other day a farmers’ rally organised by the JD(S) created a massive traffic jam in Bangalore. For
hours, thousands
of commuters were stranded. They
fretted, fumed and
cursed. Schoolchildren were marooned in their buses for hours. Parents spent anxious
moments. The police looked helpless. The least one expected from the organisers of the rally was a sincere apology. Instead, they rubbed salt into the wound by accusing the ‘sophisticated Bangaloreans and spoilt IT/BT sector’ of over-reacting. Doesn’t this smack of not just insensitivity but also arrogance on the part of our netas?
Before the anger could die down, another rally was held two days later. This time by the government agencies. They organised a procession of school students through busy roads, courtesy Chinnara Habba (a children’s cultural festival). The city saw another massive traffic gridlock. And another round of trauma. A minister was heckled by angry commuters. But protests fell on deaf ears. So were the high court’s stern observations. No one at the helm bothered to sit with experts and work out a feasible solution, as directed by the court. Was the BJP trying to outsmart the JD(S) in harassing citizens? Didn’t it learn any lesson from the negative feedback after the JD(S) rally?
And, why are our netas, at least a section of them, allergic to IT professionals? They are quick to blame them for every problem. Be it bad roads, traffic jams, price rise, growing crime, etc. The IT/BPO community forms hardly 10 per cent of Bangalore’s 70-lakh plus population. Everyone cribs. But netas prefer to camouflage their wrongs by targeting the IT sector. What wrong has it done? That it put Bangalore on the global map? That it encouraged investors to make a beeline to the city? That it provided jobs to hundreds and thousands of youth? That it generates a big chunk of the state’s revenue?
Caught in the traffic jam on these two fateful days were office-goers, school children, college students, teachers, senior citizens, housewives, traders... Mostly middle class. Not just sophisticated people and IT/BT guys, as some netas put it. Guess what former CM H D Kumaraswamy, JD(S) state president, said when told of the harrowing time that schoolchildren had during his party’s rally: “Even 60 years after Independence, children in many rural areas walk to school for 6-7 km daily. No one understands their problem. But if their children are inconvenienced for a day, parents in Bangalore express anguish.”
Can someone who wants to become an Obama afford to make such remarks? Is it wise to thrive on the rural-urban divide? A popular leader is one who takes everyone with him, irrespective of caste, community, language, religion and region. If Kumaraswamy thought Bangalore-bashing would help him garner rural votes, he is mistaken. The rural people aren’t naive. They can differentiate between lip sympathy and genuine concern. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have shown the door to the JD(S) in the last elections. Kumaraswamy must change his approach and work towards emerging as a leader acceptable to all.
How do political parties organise such huge rallies? Samuel Paul, founder of Public Affairs Centre, explains: “Truckloads of people are brought from villages and small towns. The hired audience, their transport and food are all paid by the party and its supporters. Consider it as down payment that the party makes to win their votes. The story is repeated at election time — liquor, sarees and cash are distributed to voters. Political parties do not blame each other as everyone does the same.” Hasn’t he hit the nail on the head? Kumaraswamy may be elated at the massive turnout at the JD(S) rally. What he fails to realise is that if the BJP or the Congress were to organise such a rally, they too would get similar response. All depends on how much you spend to bring in the crowds.
The BJP government, which gloats over being different and practical in its approach, must strive to find a solution, instead of adding to the problems. Bangalore is already groaning under the weight of non-stop, slowmoving traffic. A rally in one corner, or even an accident, has a cascading effect and roads get choked. With road widening and Metro Rail work going on, traffic comes to a grinding halt. It’s high time a permanent solution is found. A ban on rallies within city limits appears most appropriate. All parties must come together and agree to this. The Congress has made a beginning. Bangalore will then be spared of harrowing gridlocks. Political outfits will escape negative publicity.

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