Left-Congress flex muscle during bandh in Bengal

Published : January 08, 2020 19:09 IST

Burra Bazar, the wholesale market in Kolkata, looks deserted during the Bharat bandh called by trade unions on January 8. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

For the first time since 2011, when Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress assumed power in West Bengal, the opposition parties have been able to make their presence felt in a general strike called by them. On January 8, trade unions of the Left parties and the Congress, and also student unions, observed a nation-wide 24-hour bandh in protest against issues ranging from the economic policies of the Centre to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The success of the strike and manner in which it impacted normal life in West Bengal, has taken quite a few by surprise.

Although Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made it clear that her government was not supporting the strike (though she was not opposed to the issues for which it was called), and the government issued circulars that no leave would be granted on the day of the strike, a large number of people hit the streets in Kolkata and the districts. In many places railway services were affected as protesters squatted on railway tracks, and the number of vehicles plying on the roads was perceptibly fewer than on normal days.

In some places the situation turned violent with Congress and Left activists attacking buses and other vehicles and clashing with the police. In several places clashes were reported not only between protesters and the police, but also between Congress-Left supporters and Trinamool workers. While Congress and the Left workers stopped public vehicles from plying, members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool distributed sweets on the streets to those who had stepped out in defiance of the bandh.

In Sujapur, in Malda district, the violence took an extreme form, with bandh enforcers waging a pitched battle with the police. Projectiles, including crude bombs, were hurled at the police, who reacted with a lathicharge and firing of rubber bullets. Several police vehicles were also gutted. An angry Mamata lashed out at the CPI(M) and the Congress, saying, “What is happening is not protest, it is dadagiri (hooliganism). I condemn it… I support the issues, but there are other ways to support the issues, like peaceful agitation. But we will not allow anyone to forcibly enforce bandhs in Bengal. We have not allowed it now, and we will not allow it [in the future].”

Both CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Md. Salim and State Congress president Somen Mitra maintained that it was the police who had destroyed public property in Sujapur. “The Trinamool police in Malda behaved exactly like Yogi Adityanath’s police behave in Uttar Pradesh. Just as Yogi Adityanath’s police vandalised vehicles, shops, and slapped false cases on the citizens, the Bengal police, inspired by the U.P. police, and at the instigation of Mamata Banerjee, have behaved in a similar manner in Malda,” said Salim at a press conference. Somen Mitra, calling the bandh a success, demanded an “impartial investigation” into the Sujapur violence.

The only place where the strike did not seem to have made any impact was in government offices, where there was 98 per cent attendance. The State government by a notification that threatened not only loss of pay but also a “break in service” ensured that there was more attendance on the day of the bandh than even a normal day.

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