Political parties have taken to the habit of calling shutter-down and wheel jam strikes as a regular instrument of protest. The tripartite opposition alliance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tried to enforce a shutter-down strike all over the province to protest alleged electoral rigging in the local government polls, and demand that the provincial government step down. And in the nation’s commercial capital, Karachi, strikes have become almost a normal way of life for parties to give vent to their grievances. The most recent being on last Sunday to protest against the Sindh budget. Hence, it was hardly surprising when while addressing the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Friday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed frustration over recurring strikes saying “Karachi shuts down even if a fly is killed” and that “we cannot afford strikes.” He said he had directed Governor Isharatul Ebad not to allow anyone to bring the city to a standstill every other day.
The MQM which frequently resorts to strike calls to protest one or the other issue – more recently on the serious matter of alleged extrajudicial killing of a worker – seemed to have misconstrued the Prime Minister’s remarks, and reacted sharply. First, the party’s local leadership held a press conference to tell him to “refrain from making fun of the death of a human being. It does not look appropriate for a prime minister to pass such remarks.” Soon afterwards, MQM chief Altaf Hussain himself addressed a telephonic news conference to demand that the Prime Minister apologise for calling Karachiites ‘makhi’ (fly). That is an unfair interpretation of the comments. What the PM meant clearly was that strike calls are given at the slightest of pretexts. And the activity is never peaceful. It has become a familiar pattern for the strikers to force businesses to close and vehicles off the roads not always to protest political workers killings, but to put pressure on governments for other reasons. Halting of commercial activity in a city like Karachi that is the commercial hub of the country causes huge economic losses and, of course, problems for the citizens. Tragically, the strikes usually end by delivering new dead bodies.
Protest, of course, is a democratic right of political parties as well as ordinary individuals. But it must not happen at the expense of other people. Needless to say, not all people in any one place are supporters of a particular party; even the ones who may be sympathetic to the cause of strikers usually are unwilling to stop work and forgo the day’s earnings. Yet all feel compelled to close down voluntarily and stay off roads or face violence. Shutter-down and wheel-jam strikes, therefore, are no measure of the success or failure of a party’s ability to muster public support for a given issue. But they constitute an infringement on democratic rights. The political parties must learn to respect other people’s rights, and use alternative means of protest.
The Text appeared in the Editorial of Business Recorder Today.