Mamata sees red as strike hits Bengal

Bundh total in Kerala

Barely eight months ago, Kolkata was awash in green—the colour of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress—after her party vanquished the CPM-led Left Front.

On Tuesday, the partial success of the general strike called by 11 Left trade unions, in the face of the Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government’s desperate attempts to foil it, was indication enough that the tide against last summer’s green upsurge may have just begun to turn.

The strike, which was marked by deserted roads, no auto-rickshaws, cabs or private buses and mini-buses, and people staying put in their homes, was called at a time when the Left Front sensed that it could regain some of its lost ground following a series of administrative and political blunders by the Mamata regime that exposed the government in general and the Trinamool chief in particular to considerable public anger and frustration here and in other parts of the state.

Less than two weeks ago, the Left Front was able to stage a massive dharna in which nearly 500,000 people assembled at Brigade grounds, signalling that the Marxists had sounded a clarion call to make a political comeback.

In response to the Left’s renewed bid to politically attack the Mamata Banerjee regime, the West Bengal government did everything in its power to foil Tuesday’s bundh. On February 21, the government issued a circular directing all employees to attend work on Tuesday, failing which severe penalties, including “service break”, would be imposed on them.

The administration allowed its employees to stay overnight in some of the government establishment to ensure that official work on Tuesday was attended to.
People cooked food and stayed overnight in high security establishments like the Writers’ Building, the New Secretariat, Bhawani Bhawan, which is the state police headquarters, and transport offices.

Though the government was desperate to keep the city and the state on the move, commercial establishments were hardly open and private vehicles , including buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws , did not ply.

Suburban train services, the Metro, tram cars and government bus services functioned normally but people preferred to stay indoors fearing violence.
In Kerala, the bundh call evoked total response, with transport off the roads and all commercial and industrial units shut. Air and train services, however, operated as scheduled. “Everything is shut. Schools and colleges are closed. All banks and industrial units are shut. Markets are closed. Transport is off the road,” an official said.

While the overall law and order situation in Bengal was normal, there were reports of sporadic clashes from different parts of the state. At Rajarhat two CPM cadres were allegedly fired upon when there was an altercation over opening of a school and journalists were beaten up allegedly by some Trinamool workers while covering a clash between the Trinamool Congress and the CPM at Jadavpur in south Kolkata.

Claiming that the strike was a failure as the common people had not responded to the bundh call, Mamata said: “There is no strike at all. Everything is open. All the buses, trains and taxis are running. The flights have also operated according to schedule. The presence of government employees in the offices has been near about 100 per cent”.

She was “very happy with the attendance” and that throughout Bengal life has been normal. In some places, CPM and BJP workers have tried to create violence. There were incidence of ransacking of buses and shops,” she said.

While Mamata’s objective was to project that the strike had minimal or no effect, Leader of Opposition Surya Kanta Mishra claimed that the bundh was fully successful and that the chief minister “will now have to think ten times before making any desperate attempt to foil such strikes.”

Challenging the government, Mishra said “If any action is taken against any person absent today we will go to court.”

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