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Writing on the road for Mamata and CPM

Calcutta, Dec. 3: Two things stood out during today's bandh to signal the change in Bengal politics. And they had two messages ' one for Mamata Banerjee and the other, more important one for all parties.

The first thing to note about the bandh was its impact in south Calcutta, Mamata's own Lok Sabha constituency. The largest number of violent incidents occurred there. This showed that even on her own turf the Trinamul Congress had to depend more on force than popular support for the success of the bandh.

It could be wrong to think this was a coincidence. It actually falls into a pattern that came to light in the last Lok Sabha elections. The polls showed how her area of influence shrunk from the whole of Bengal to south Bengal and finally to her very own south Calcutta.

But the violence in south Calcutta also made the larger point about the bandh. Her supporters obviously had to use force in order to intimidate people who dared to venture out during a bandh ' that too in her area of strength.

But this story of defiance had its political significance for the rest of the state and also for all political parties, particularly the CPM, that had routinely used force to impose bandhs on the people.

The talk today everywhere was how more and more people overcame fear and fatigue to come out on the street and attend work. And, it is important to note that they did so during a bandh called by Mamata, whose party activists had far greater capacity for intimidating them or even taking to violence than small parties like the SUCI or the CPI(ML), which had called the bandhs in the past two weeks.

If they could break free from the fear of the Trinamul, it would only make the people bolder to face similar threats from the CPM in future.

The crucial thing about this newfound public courage was that it cut across different sections of people. Those who took out their cars showed the same defiance and freedom from fear as those who rode their motorbikes or bicycles.

There was a time ' not very long ago ' when the people would not even take out their cycles out on a bandh day because the bandh-wallas would deflate the tyres to terrorise them or simply for fun.

The recent court rulings may have done their part in it, but the fact that was proved again today was that the people are at least emerging out of the bandh fear. This message came more from the ordinary people out on the streets than from the corporate men who gathered at the Infocom's sessions in a five-star hotel during the day or from the organised show of defiance by the CPM at its public reception of a delegation from Cuba.

Neither Mamata nor the CPM can afford to ignore this message from the street. Contrary to calculations within her party, she cannot also hope for a political resurrection from any legal steps against her for violating the court orders. The rulings apart, the bandhs are seen as no more than party games which no longer amuse the people. They can still sympathise with her if she is attacked by CPM goons, but there is little sympathy left for bandh-organisers, irrespective of their parties.

There are new ground realities, which even the party games can no longer ignore. Mamata seems to be still stuck in her attempts to duplicate the CPM's ways ' in calling bandhs and hoping to enforce them with the help of a dose of muscle power. This political method has not helped her all these years simply because the people associate these strategies with the CPM. Anti-CPM social constituencies never had much love lost for the politics of bandhs.

Since it is the ruling party, the CPM is showing signs of changing its strategies to suit the changed rules of the game. Bandhs are clearly ceasing to be the flavour of any political season. There were old, familiar scenes today of boys playing cricket on empty roads or less vehicles or crowds than on a normal working day. But the other picture of greater public defiance of the bandh was today's real story.

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