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Bandh or not: Bengal's day of test
Mamata Banerjee

Calcutta, Dec. 2: Bengal will be on test today in more ways than one.

Mamata Banerjee will have to prove she can still enforce a bandh.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will have to show his government can maintain normality.

The judiciary will have to assure people that its orders still have meaning.

But, above all, tomorrow will be a test for the people.

Popular wisdom suggests bandhs succeed because people are afraid to come out. On the past two bandhs, they were not afraid but the organisers lacked the muscle to inspire fear. Mamata's Trinamul Congress does not.

Will they be afraid tomorrow'

Mamata said she was ready to face any consequence for organising the bandh, which she has made plain through her refusal to accept, let alone comply with, the Calcutta High Court order that asked her to call off the action.

The deadline for announcing the withdrawal passed today. Mamata, however, said: 'I haven't received the copy of the high court order till this evening. I am not saying anything about the order, but I'm not ready to bow my head before anybody except the people of my state or the Indian Constitution.'

She and her party have not accepted the order because it is addressed to the chairman/secretary of the Trinamul Congress. The party has neither ' Mamata is chairperson.

Trinamul has decided to take out processions from five key points in the city: Hazra Park, Kankurgachi, Sraddhananda Park, Baranagar and Shyambazar.

Mamata said her party would not apply force to make the bandh successful. But this was what a party leader, Madan Mitra, said at a rally: 'CPM cadre are asking you to keep your establishments open tomorrow, but will they come to your rescue if anything untoward happens in your shop during the bandh'

'The CPM and their government will be responsible for any untoward incident tomorrow because we are not going to resort to violence,' said Mamata.

Asked if the CPM would try to foil the bandh, the party's state secretary, Anil Biswas, said: 'Why should our supporters be on roads' They'll be busy attending offices, schools and colleges and convincing people to maintain normality tomorrow.'

The CPM-led government is bound by a high court order to ensure public transport runs and there is enough security around to make people confident to come out and go to work. It is also committed, again by the court, to cut salaries of employees who do not attend office.

Having watched only yesterday traffic come to a standstill during a protest by the Citu, the CPM's labour arm, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty promised to keep the wheels rolling tomorrow.

The director-general of police, Shyamal Dutta, said: 'About 6,000 police personnel and 18 platoons of the Indian Reserved Police will be posted all over the state to resist the bandh.'

Failure means embarrassment for the chief minister ' the city is hosting a number of visitors tomorrow. At least one chief minister, Tarun Gogoi of Assam, and several ministers from neighbouring states will be present at Infocom 2004, a conference and exhibition on information technology. Bhattacharjee himself has a session where he could face questions from visitors about a Bengal forever in bandh bondage.

The Pharmaceuticals Congress, with delegates coming from all over India, starts tomorrow. Special security arrangements will be made for both.

And beyond tomorrow lies the court hearing of the petition against Trinamul's bandh where it will be known if politicians are above the law.

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