KOCHI: It was 12 at noon. The MG Road in Kochi, which is usually bustling with activity, sported a deserted look with only a few opened shops.
A day before the hartal, it was announced on social media that the shops in the MG Road stretch will be opened like any other day. Retail shops of big brands and other big shops supported this decision. To assure protection and security, the Kerala Chamber of Commerce and Industry even wrote to the District Collector and the police authorities.
However, when the shops were opened in the morning, a group of 60 to 70 men forced them shut. Though a few shops opened again after some time, another group of men stormed the place and asked to pull the shutters of the remaining shops. “The police were called but they were ineffective. They even advised shop owners to close down to prevent further friction,” said Rajesh Nair, MG Road Merchants’ Association convenor.
“This act by the protesters claiming to be part of certain parties is an act of hooliganism. The attitude of the policemen during such a time is also worrisome,” said Gopakumar S, president of Better Kochi Response Group.
According to Rajesh, none of the shop owners’ association has anything against the protest. “If the political parties have the right to call for a Bharat bandh, we have the right to open our shops as well,” he said. “We had to close our shops for more than 10 days during the floods. If we keep on shutting down for public strikes, we’ll be at the verge of a financial crisis. You can’t expect us to comply with strikes such as this.”