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Gandhi dear to CPM, when in need

Calcutta, Nov. 22: Bengal's ruling Leftists have suddenly discovered the Mahatma in Gandhi while advocating the right to strike in Calcutta High Court.

Advocate-general Balai Ray, who articulated the government's stand in favour of strikes today, peppered his arguments with references to Gandhi, whom he described as the 'father of our nation'.

The communists are not known for using the 'father-of-the-nation' label or trekking to Gandhighat in Barrackpore on days of his birth or death.

While defending the government in a bandh-related case before a special bench, Ray went back in time while urging the bench to make a distinction between a bandh and a general strike. 'Bandhs have been declared illegal by the Supreme Court. But there is a clear distinction between a bandh and a general strike. We will be perceived to be defying the Father of the Nation if both the concepts, of bandhs and general strikes, are treated equally. Perhaps, India won its freedom by way of general strikes called by Gandhiji,' Ray told the special bench.

The bench of Justices Pratap Kumar Roy and Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya, however, felt that a general strike is also not 'desirable.'

'Don't forget that Mahatma Gandhi's movement was directed against British colonialism. Today, ours is an independent country fighting to improve the lot of poor people. At this juncture, even a day's bandh can cause immense harm to the country's economy,' the judges observed.

That Ray incorporated the Mahatma into his arguments as part of a strategy was apparent to legal experts. One of them said: 'The statutory rules for state government employees do not condone absence on the grounds of bandhs, but accept an employee's right to casual or any other defined leave on a day of general strike. The government reckons that it can create space for itself and pacify trade unions if it can soften up the court in Mahatma Gandhi's name and get it to acknowledge that the right to strike is a fundamental right.'

In tune with the advocate-general's emphasis on the right to strike and his reference to Gandhi, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said: 'The party is fighting a legal battle in the Supreme Court for the past three years to champion the cause of the bandh.'

He added: 'The bandh is the most effective tool in the hands of the working people'.

However, the judges felt that a general strike or bandh 'is a luxury exclusive to political parties in a country where more than 40 per cent people live below poverty line.'

They said the government should take a decisive stand regarding the present practice of granting mass casual leave to employees on a bandh day.

'We want an affidavit from you detailing the deduction of salaries of the employees found absent from office on bandh day. We shall not allow the government to grant mass casual leave on a bandh day.'

The judges also asked Ray to file a separate affidavit containing the government's view on 'differences' between bandhs and general strikes.

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