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Rebels at backdoor, rivals in same bed

Calcutta, Dec. 3: If every family in Bengal had a backdoor to do business, it would possibly have done so ' during a bandh.

A large store in south Calcutta opened this morning, as usual, but pulled the shutters down after being visited by a group of supporters of Mamata Banerjee. Still, customers trickled in, through the backdoor.

The example sums up today's bandh called by the Trinamul Congress.

Fear was oppressive but not overwhelming, as in previous bandhs called by Mamata. Roads were empty but not deserted. At bus stops, there were small clusters of people waiting. Amid rows and rows of shuttered shops, a sudden burst of the fragrance of food ' a bhujiawala doing business.

Describing her bandh as a 'success', Mamata claimed: 'People on their own stayed away from office and work.'

It is true that most shops, business establishments and educational institutions remained closed.

But Mamata could not keep her promise that her party would not force a bandh on the people. Trinamul supporters hurled bombs at various places, stoned over a dozen buses and blocked railway tracks.

Waving party flags, they forced some shopkeepers to down shutters in southern Calcutta, in areas that come under Mamata's Lok Sabha constituency. The northern and central parts of the city were relatively free of incidents.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty had promised to keep services normal yesterday. Today, he blamed the people. He said about 50 per cent of bus operators had run one or two trips in the morning, but withdrew the vehicles after they found no passengers. Some panicked after bombs were thrown.

'Few people came out despite repeated appeals from our side. This could either be because people love holidays or may be they were afraid to go out,' he said.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee mingled with representatives of the information technology industry at Infocom 2004, narrating how Bengal was changing and labelling politicians who call bandhs 'irresponsible'.

But the ruling CPM betrayed enough hints about being torn between the need to protect the right to call bandhs and the political imperative to rubbish Mamata's cause. This was demonstrated most clearly by Anil Biswas, the party's state general secretary.

Biswas handed Mamata a veiled compliment by describing the bandh as a 'partial success'. 'But the bandh was uncalled for,' he added.

People responded not because they supported the issues she had raised ' the recent petroleum price increase is one ' but because they were protesting against what he called the 'growing intervention of the high court' in political activity.

It will be no surprise if tomorrow Biswas and Mamata sup at the same table, plotting strategies against the judiciary that has taken a hard stand against activities that impinge upon the citizens' right to go about their business.

'We have no objection to talking to her on this issue,' Biswas said.

'We don't mind sharing a platform with the CPM to discuss measures on how to deal with the judiciary's interference,' Mamata responded.

Before that, however, she could get into trouble when Calcutta High Court resumes hearing of the petition against the bandh on December 7. First, she refused to accept the summons and then the order asking her to call off the bandh.

Equally important, though, is the long list of examples of coercion by her party during the bandh.

See Metro and Page 13

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