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DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE

Perhaps the chief minister of West Bengal has something priceless to give away. The king who searched far and wide for a man who would cure the unsmiling princess of her disease of grumpiness promised the successful healer his daughter's hand. The chief minister has diagnosed that his state is suffering from the bandh disease, and has said that a doctor must be found. But Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's rhetoric does not suggest that he can read the symptoms right. While condemning bandhs called 'irresponsibly' by political parties, he also asserted the right of 'workers' to protest. But by invoking strikes in the advanced West in support of his argument, he ' surely in a fit of absentmindedness ' confused categories. An industrial strike called by workers to bargain for their rights has nothing in common with a bandh or general strike enforced by political parties. The disease obviously runs deep.

The Trinamool Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, may feel that shops closed down by threats and public vehicles with passengers in them broken up by party goons are signs of the people's 'spontaneous' response. On the other side, cornered by the high court pronouncement against bandhs, and the thrust towards industrialization by the state government, Mr Anil Biswas, state chairman of the Left Front, fumbled badly over his message. The rival party should not have called a bandh ' this was an anti-Left Front bandh, after all ' but people did respond because they are objecting not to price rises but to the intervention of the judiciary. It would be logical, therefore, to discuss with Ms Banerjee a strategy against such judicial pronouncements.

But the court is strictly within its jurisdiction in upholding citizens' right to free movement. To take the argument one step further, it might be asked whether people prevented from working or going where they need to, either by circumstances created by the party calling the bandh, or by threats and actual violence, are not victims of a kind of terrorism. It is perhaps too fanciful to hope that the laws against terrorism would be used against such parties. The fatal and furtive attraction of the Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for each other over the bandh issue is a revealing instance of the love of bullying they share. To insist, as they are doing, that the people in Bengal love ' 'respond to' ' bandhs is to ignore all those who brave difficulties to go to work, and to glorify instead that segment which loves an illicit holiday. The most unproductive segment, that is. It would be comforting to believe that all this is part of the Bengali's genetic love for postures of protest. But equivocation rather spoils that impression. When talking of doctors, the chief minister must have remembered the old exhortation: 'Physician, heal thyself.'

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