The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shutdown opens up Buddha rift with union

Calcutta, Sept. 29: Not in the pink of health, relations between Citu and the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government ' if not the CPM leadership as well ' plunged headlong to- day, pushed by two incidents.

One was the experience of the chief minister’s wife, Meera Bhattacharjee, who was stopped by bandh supporters on her way to work. The more important was what looked like a deliberate attempt to humiliate the chief minister by targeting information technology companies in Sector V of Salt Lake.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, embarrassed by the Meera incident, through the day refused to take queries from the media, relenting only after reports of intimidation, violence and a profusion of bandh-related complaints were brought to his notice.

“Generally speaking, we are always with the working class people and will continue to be with them. But, mark my words, we have nothing to do with today’s strike, which is essentially a show of Citu and other trade unions,” said Biswas. “We only gave them moral support.”

That was not how Kali Ghosh, the Citu state secretary and CPM state committee member, saw it. “The support he (Biswas) is talking about is more than moral. It is active support, which the CPM politburo and central committee decided and conveyed to us,” he said.

The strike in Bengal, far more successful than in other parts of the country, gave the CPM’s labour union an opportunity to give vent to its growing hard feelings against the Bhattacharjee government over the initiatives on industrialisation and reforms.

The all-India strike call also, ironically, is against reforms initiated by the Manmohan Singh government.

Tension between the CPM-led government and its labour arm has been building up for quite some time.

At its core is the chief minister’s campaign to present the state as investor-friendly, contrary to what it has been perceived to be for decades because of militant trade union movements.

In the Citu’s eyes, under Bhattacharjee the government has swung from being an administration that glossed over such militancy to one that not only condemned it openly, but also suggested that it would not hesitate to apply force to put it down. The conflict between the Left Front government and Citu had, in fact, begun towards the end of Jyoti Basu’s tenure.

At various party forums, Citu leaders have called for a change in the government’s approach to labour issues. They have resented the status given to infotech where the government tries to ensure uninterrupted work even during strikes, in keeping with Bhattacharjee’s attempt to engineer an industrial revival on the back of the knowledge sector.

This resentment could well have been the reason IT companies found it hard to get employees to work today, finally resorting to police escort.

“IT need not be pampered unnecessarily,” said Ghosh. “It will not create thousands of jobs. But we seem to be treat- ing it as a privileged industry. Besides, we seem to be paying less attention to genuine labour demands.”

Citu’s anger is believed to be directed towards IT minister Manab Mukherjee and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, in addition to Bhattacharjee. Sources said the Citu leadership is planning to complain to its CPM counterpart against the “anti-labour” ministers in Bhattacharjee’s cabinet.

“We support labour, too, but that does not mean we support the use of force in enforcing a strike,” said Biswas, who, as the spearhead of the party, had been backing the government’s industrialisation thrust.

Bengal Citu president Shyamal Chakraborty, a favourite also with the CPM leadership, made himself scarce today.

But Ghosh and his associates asserted that Biswas could not wash his hands of the matter by talking of just “moral support”.

“Citu is guided politically by the CPM’s line and the state CPM leadership had asked all party units to ensure the strike was a success,” they said.

On condition of anonymity, Citu leaders said the Bengal edition of the strike was also meant to highlight Bhattacharjee’s advocacy of what they called jobless growth. “We want jobs for the unemployed and we don’t find in the government’s approach any emphasis on job creation.”

The CPM state leadership is finding it increasingly difficult to act as the bridge between the government and Citu. But as the party is with the government, Citu may find it difficult to win this war.

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