Monday, December 11, 2006

Is Bengal grinding to a halt again?

[ 12 Dec, 2006 0102hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

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NEW DELHI: Are the dark days of the 1970s, when life came to a virtual standstill because of political processions, trade union unrest and factory lockouts; when industrialists bolted and capital fled; threatening Kolkata once again?

Recent bandhs in quick succession, 'michils' choking the streets, Salil Chowdhury's songs take you back to the tumultuous days of the Left agitations three decades ago.

As the fury over CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's decision to hand over Singur farmlands to the Tatas refuses to die, Kolkata is under siege again.

As a new week began, Kolkatans on Monday were blocked by three rallies which drew anything between 5,000 and 15,000 people.

The three processions organised by SFI, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind and the Krishijami Bachao Committee — a Trinamul Congress-led platform opposing the Singur land acquisition — clogged streets of North and Central Kolkata, with College Street being the worst-hit.

Things aren't going to improve. Landowners who have given up land voluntarily, will be showcased by CPM in Kolkata on Tuesday, possibly crippling the city traffic again.

On Thursday, the state is bracing for a Citu-sponsored bandh over various labour and industry issues. Last week, the dust over Singur never got time to settle down in Kolkata's streets.

The city and suburbs witnessed two-bandhs in a row phenomenon. First Trinamul and other groups banded under Mamata Banerjee's anti-land acquisition movement mobbed Kolkata streets.

For two days, they banded on the streets and even smashed a Tata showroom in the heart of Kolkata. The first bandh was against alleged police excesses against Mamata when she tried to reach Singur.

The SUCI and Naxal groups joined in, scaring residents off the streets. "When West Bengal is making an all-out effort to change its image, the bandhs are strict a no-no.

Political parties don't really care for the poor as the bandhs mostly hit them," said Nilanjan Maitra, an executive of a telecom company.

It's not just the last few weeks. Bengal, despite CPM's best efforts to look modern, has staggered in efficiency.

According to the latest report on industrial situation in West Bengal, the state has lost millions of mandays due to strikes and lockouts in industrial units with more than 500 workers.

Mandays lost in September this year far exceeds last years monthly average of mandays lost. While 3.44 million mandays were lost this September alone, the 2005 monthly average of mandays lost stood at 2.26 million.

An industry department official said, "The data obviously doesn't prove that suddenly there has been an upsurge in the number of strikes and bandhs. But it points to the obvious fact that industrial disputes are on the rise in the state."

As the controversy raged, breakthrough on the Singur impasse appeared to fade. While Buddha once again asked Mamata to end her fast and come to the negotiating table, opposition parties cold shouldered the CM's offer.

Mamata described Buddhadeb's offer for the talks "a ploy to break the movement", while Congress said there could be no dialogue till acquisition was stopped.

Mamata also rejected feelers sent from Tata Motors MD Ravi Kant for talks. "Please don't talk nonsense. I am not aware of any offer from talks from Tata Motors. Please don't cross your limits," Mamata said.

She refused to go to any hospital for medical care if her condition worsened because of the hungerstrike
emphasising that she did not trust a hospital.

"They (the government) will inject poison, they will administer the AIDS virus. I will rather die sitting on the road.

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