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Beaten by people, but bandh lives on
- Leaders across divide admit that strikes have outlived their longevity but are not prepared for burial

Calcutta, Dec. 22: After people’s disapproval compelled Mamata Banerjee to call off her 48-hour bandh — though that was not the reason she cited — political parties might think twice about organising shutdowns in the future.

They do not yet promise an end to bandhs, but have to confront the reality of such action becoming unpopular and ineffective.

Leaders of the Opposition parties — the Trinamul Congress, Congress and SUCI — as well the CPM admit that “bandh as a weapon of protest” has lost its edge because of “repeated misuse”, but blame rivals for the continuing practice of calling strikes.

Risking the wrath of leader Mamata Banerjee, leader of Opposition in the Assembly Partha Chatterjee said political parties call bandhs in the name of people but the people are not interested in them any more. “Bandhs and strikes called at the drop of a hat have made people cynical. They hardly bother to find out the issues behind bandhs these days and simply enjoy the holiday.”

The Trinamul leader even questioned the “relevance of bandhs and strikes in the age of the television, Internet and SMS”.

“Earlier, disruptive forms of agitation were aimed at drawing the attention of the government and the people. Now mass media influence people.”

If Chatterjee appears to be writing the epitaph to bandh, don’t jump to a conclusion. “People do support issues close to their heart, like the ghastly murder of Tapasi Malik in Singur,” he said.

According to Chatterjee, the 48-hour bandh called by Mamata was not wrong, the timing was. “Had it been called the day after the murder, shocked and enraged citizens would have reacted differently.”

The Congress’s Subrata Mukherjee agreed — “the timing must be right and issues that have popular appeal” have to be picked. “Mamata’s 48-hour bandh was ill-timed and ill-advised. But a 12-hour bandh the day after Tapasi’s murder would have triggered spontaneous support,” said Subrata, who had vowed support for the 48-hour shutdown.

The two reflect the ambivalence across the political spectrum. On one hand, they realise that overuse and misuse have possibly blunted the weapon. On the other, they do not wish to publicly disown it. That is why “our bandhs are right, their bandhs wrong”.

This contradiction is as evident in Chatterjee and Mukherjee as in Bengal CPM secretary Biman Bose and his party colleague and state Citu president Shyamal Chakraborty.

December was blighted by bandhs not because of Mamata alone. Citu enforced a bandh on December 14 — a much worse shutdown than any of those called by the Opposition.

Bose and Chakraborty had then made a distinction between “our bandhs and their bandhs”. “Bandhs on just issues of the Left and issue-less bandhs by the Opposition.”

CPM leader Rabin Deb argued that the Left has stopped calling Bengal bandhs because they boomerang on its own government. “Between 1991 and 1996, all 11 bandhs that the Left called were national. Ditto for the six bandhs since 2000.”

What he means is that it’s fine to call nationwide bandhs, though they cripple Bengal more than any other state because the Left is in power here.

It’s clearly too early to declare “Bandh, RIP”. But December’s excesses and the resulting popular discontent might have delivered a telling blow to the this tool of protest.

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