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On hartal (2)

Posted in politics by jrahman on June 29, 2010

I have been trying to understand why Bangladeshi oppositions call hartal.  Not just the current opposition BNP, but any opposition.  After a series of discussions with friends (in the blogosphere as well as ‘real’ life) who have experience of grass root politics, I think the following formula summarises why an opposition may call hartal.

                               C (PI, GR) < B (OR, GR)

The right-hand-side is the cost to the opposition of calling hartal.  The cost, denoted C, is an increasing function of public inconvenience (PI).  Any hartal imposes some degree on public inconvenience, and thus extracts a cost on the opposition party in terms of public support.  So the direct relationship between C and PI is self-evident. 

The right-hand-side of the formula is the benefit, denoted B, to the opposition.  It is an increasing function of organisational revitalisation (OR).  I have been told by my politically experienced (as opposed to an armchair-expert such as yours truly) that hartals are a great way of revitalising moribund party rank and file — hence the positive relationship between OR and B.

All else being equal, an opposition party will call hartal, again and again if needed, as long as the benefit from OR outweighs costs from PI.  Thus, for example, if the hartal is called on a rainy day, with a 40-day warning, then the public inconvenience will be minimised.  Meanwhile, if that hartal happens in the backdrop of a series of political developments that are encouraging to the opposition, then the OR could get an extra boost from it.

There is one complicating factor, however.  The term GR, which stands for government repression, stands on both sides of the formula.  What do I mean by government repression?  This photo essay provides a clue.  It’s clear that GR increases the cost of calling a hartal. 

But GR also increases the benefit, to the opposition party, of calling a hartal.  Any government repression, whether by the ruling party activists or the law enforcement agencies, can be sold as an evidence of why the hartal was justified in the first instance. 

The question the opposition, any opposition, needs to answer is whether the cost of the marginal oppression worth the benefit.

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