The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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If it’s a working day, let’s work

Calcutta High Court on Monday passed a judgment that can make Buddhadeb ‘cholbe cholbe’ Bhattacharjee breathe easy (on the business front, at least), improve industrial image and, at a long shot, even pave the path for a fast-moving state.

Last Friday, the Bengal chief minister admitted during a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) meet that repeated references to bandhs and rallies gave him “a real headache”. Three days after his open admission in front of industry captains, Bhattacharjee gets a chance —- armed with a high court judgment as balm — to lessen the headache.

On a day when Bhattacharjee was busy rolling out Bengal’s red carpet to diplomats in Delhi, Justice Amitava Lala’s “landmark” judgment was the talking point in business circles back in Calcutta. Though the mood was “cautiously optimistic”, the industry was quick to welcome the court verdict banning day-time rallies on weekdays and urged the administration to implement the ruling as soon as possible. This, of course, would be easier said than done, given the political rumblings against the ban (see box).

“It’s a historic judgment. If it’s implemented in true spirit, it will do a lot of good to the state,” said Kiran Karnik, chairman, National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), the apex body of IT companies in the country.

Rallies and bandhs have long been major roadblocks in the Bengal government’s path to industrial progress. From industry associations to spin doctors, consultants to foreign investors, everyone has raised serious questions about these disruptive demonstrations. “The issue of rallies and bandhs has come up in almost all investor meets that the state government has organised outside Bengal, in association with McKinsey,” admitted a senior government official.

Consultancy major McKinsey was hired two years ago to help the government grab investments in the information technology sector. With perception problem being identified as one of the key factors constraining the state’s growth, the government has recently roped in Ogilvy Public Relations to manage its “external communications”.

The results of a recent business perception survey — conducted by the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) by quizzing 60 CEOs — also focussed on the fallacy of traffic-stopper demonstrations, with over 90 per cent of the respondents saying no to rallies and bandhs in Calcutta. “The verdict from the CEOs was loud and clear. We are very happy with the high court judgment, but implementation will be critical and the ruling party must show the way,” said Nazeeb Arif, secretary-general, ICC.

Only time can tell whether the ruling Left will steer clear of roads in daytime on weekdays, but the business and industry view the verdict as a move that can discipline political parties, at least to an extent. “Everyone is aware that Bengal and Calcutta are plagued by things carried over from the past. It’s high time we were made to realise that on working days we should be working,” said Sanjay Budhia, chairman, eastern region, CII. Budhia, however, added that there was nothing wrong in staging demonstrations in a democratic society, as long as they were not disruptive in nature.

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