The message in support of the Left trade union-sponsored bandh was pinned close to his heart, but Hem Narayan Roy had reported for work sharp at 8 in the morning. The Writers’ Buildings liftman was at work till late on Thursday.
“It is a busy day for me… Of 18 liftmen, I am the only one on duty today. I am also manning the water pump,” said Roy, who has served for 27 years at the state secretariat.
He is a member of the state coordination committee that asked its members to skip work on Thursday. But Roy, who lives in the Writers’ staff quarters, had a few extra hours added to his duty roster to ensure that the chief minister could take the lift to his chamber.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee spent a full day in office, but the rest of Writers’ wore a deserted look, as almost all rooms remained under lock-and-key. Every morning, 60 PWD employees open the doors to the Writers’ rooms.
But Balaram Das, sporting a badge protesting the UPA government’s anti-people policies, was the sole representative of the key brigade on Thursday. “Today, police are opening the rooms. There are 60 sets of keys and I am helping them find the right ones,” smiled Das.
Attendance at Writers’ was not even one per cent. It was no different in most other public and private establishments, as the strike brought the city to a halt.
Some local and long-distance trains did reach Howrah station early on Thursday, but it was full stop from 6 am. A few taxi drivers were willing to defy the bandh, but for a fat fee — Rs 900 for Salt Lake, Rs 500 for Shakespeare Sarani...
As the day wore on, the number of passengers — either stranded or waiting for a late-evening train — swelled and tempers flew. A number of long-distance trains, including Howrah and Sealdah-bound Rajdhani Express, were held up beyond Bengal borders. Several trains were cancelled and rescheduled.
“Only the expensive shops are open, even the regular chai-pani stalls are closed. No one is bothered about people like us,” said an angry passenger, waiting with his family to board Coromandel Express.
Clearly, the bandh called by mass organisations to protest anti-people policies had hit the common man the hardest.
On the streets, Citu activists were seen stopping cars and harassing those going to work. Park Circus, Gariahat, Ultadanga, Jadavpur and Esplanade were the worst hit.
Yet, not a single arrest was carried out. “There were 5,000 policemen at strategic locations. We have no information of force being applied by bandh supporters,” claimed Pradip Chatterjee, deputy commissioner (headquarters).
No wonder the city came to a stop.