The signature of Chaos - The Mandelbrot Set
Lately, Trivandrum has been subject to two intense versuons of this age-old form of political action, in the form of a "Secretariat Blockade" by the UDF followed by a "National General Strike" by the Left. I can't recollect what the reasons stated where, I don't care much for whatever they wanted, neither do, I suspect, the 99.9% of the public inconvenienced by these two supposedly democratic protests.
Trivandrum usually fares worst in Kerala because as the Capital City, every Tom, Dick and Harry with a cause or even a very poor excuse for a cause lands up here to voice their protest in any of a myriad forms. So, leaky taps in Kasargode and power-cuts in Idukki all land up at our doorsteps. I suppose that goes with the territory of being a capital, a bane suffered by every such city from Washington D.C. to Beijing (maybe not, after Tiananmen) to New Delhi. But whether the frequency and often ferocity, of the human turbulence witnessed in Ananthapuri may not be very common.
Sticking to my policy of keeping politics off the blog as much as possible, we will keep well off the tricky path of discussing the morality of public protests, bandhs et al. As long as democracy persists and all democratic parties will need various forms of protests to stay in the limelight, it is very unlikely that anyone will listen to the vast majority and put a tight leash on protests. Whatever feeble attempts have been made by the Judiciary are observed more in the breach these days. So what can we do, if the torrent of protest actions is unlikely to abate in the forseeable future?
Well, we need not suffer in silence. There are steps which can be taken without breaking our heads against the wall of common political apathy to mitigate the impact of such protests while maintaining the right to political expression.
1. Shift the political centre outside the CBD - The shifting of the Collectorate to its new home in Kudapanakunnu is a sure first step (although I guess that readers residing in the vicinity may feel otherwise). If the prime target of most protests - the Secretariat - can be moved to some 1000 acre plot near Attingal, imagine the relief felt by the city. And with more space around it, the protestors can have an easier time too!
2. Put a toll on protests - If everyone has to pay for the use of public infrastructure, so do protestors. Any protest with more than a specified threshold of protestors can be asked to pay a token amount as toll. What is the use of protest if there is no sacrifice? How one counts heads within a chaotic rally is another matter altogether, but it can be accomplished with some accuracy using surveillance cameras.
In case of protests which force organisations to close, be it be a corner shop or Technopark, the outfit responsible should be forced to cough up a major share of the lost revenue. Technopark, for example, makes about Rs 6 Crores a day!
3. Better Traffic Management - To start with, protest marches can be physically penned into one lane of the road using temporary barriers, atleast at intersections. We would need a lot of barriers, ropes and cones, but it will atleast permit a modicum of space on the road for everybody else. Secondly, effective policing to allow crossings at all major junctions. Thankfully, the new grade separators being built as parts of CRIP will be a boon in this sense. More flyovers and underpasses will help. Thirdly, information is very valuable to avoid protests. Few of us would dive kamikaze style into a rally, if we knew it was passing by. Chances are, we don't know. The City Police can dessiminate traffic information using its smart web-site , radio channels (Radio Mirchi does a pretty good job already!), electronic traffic message boards or even via an SMS messaging service.
4. Efficient Public Transportation - Means that we don't have to negotiate the hurdles ourselves, and that there are less private vehicles on the road to get jammed up. Even with our humble KSRTC bus fleet, the difference is visible. On days where most other Kerala cities are paralysed when their private buses stay off the road, the KSRTC keeps Trivandrum buzzing. Imagine what could be done with the proposed mass transit buses and mono-rail! Of course, the Govt. will also need to make public transport an essential service so that its employees don't scoot as well! The last few times that general strikes were called in Kerala, the KSRTC in Trivandrum was geared up to operate atleast a significant part of its usual services, but there were no passengers, lol.
5. Integrated Townships - These are cities in miniature, self-contained and secure. Take the massive Technocity project as an example, it will have huge IT parks (more than 15 million sq.ft. of space), residences, malls, hotels, schools, hospitals, sporting facilities and pretty much everything one can want to live and work. The concept is referred to as "Walk to Work", which has rather special connotations in our context. If you live within walking distance of the office, little short of a cyclone can stop you getting there. Soon, the area from Aakulam to Thonnakkal may become such an eco-system, especially if the Government extends the police protection currently provided to Technopark to the entire region.
6. The most important thing is for all of us to realise that strikes are NOT holidays. The kind of rush one witnesses in front of video rental shops and the ubiquitous BevCo booze shops on the day before a general strike is a sure sign that there is a holiday mood in place. What's the worst that can happen out if we venture out in the midst of a strike? Not much actually, unless you happen to wander into the cross-hairs of particularly vicious bunch of miscreants. And this is less likely than winding up in a road accident. The sum total of all injuries probably comes down significantly on a General Strike. So, let's venture out next time someone decides to call a general strike for something. I did for the last couple of bandhs, and I am still here.
7. There is always this option....
But, let's not get to that....yet.
A combination of the above structural measures could help mitigate the vagaries of the those all-too common protests. Trivandrum is the capital, so protests are unlikely to vanish once and for all.
Fingers crossed on that, see you when the next "bandholiday" rolls in. Cheers!