| A Writers’ Buildings employee tells colleagues to stay away from work on Tuesday, when the state government employees coordination committee observed a strike. (Below): Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee arrives at Writers’ on Tuesday with ministers Nirupam Sen and Surjya Kanta Mishra. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday dropped the fig leaf of wordplay and used the term “bandh” to describe the shutdown that the Trinamul Congress plans to inflict on Wednesday.
Till her announcement on Tuesday evening, Mamata had been careful not to say she was calling a bandh, as such an act has been banned by law and the violation of which had earned M. Karunanidhi the Supreme Court’s ire on Monday.
But with 13 hours to go for the start of the “total shutdown”, Mamata spelt out that the state would be paralysed for 12 hours to protest “state-sponsored terrorism in Nandigram” and that “some essential services (including healthcare and the information technology sector) would be kept outside the purview of the bandh”.
Mamata also stressed that October 31 had been chosen as it was “the day when our late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had fallen to bullets”.
What about the inconvenience that the bandh call would cause to the common man' “I am helpless. My party and I cannot allow such lawlessness in the state,” said Mamata, before urging the people of Bengal to support the shutdown.
A similar appeal for a shutdown from SUCI had fallen mostly on deaf ears on Tuesday. The 12-hour bandh called by SUCI caused some shops in pockets of south and central Calcutta to down shutters.
Traders rued the loss of valuable hours in the run-up to Dhanteras and Diwali and opened shops as soon as the fear of forcible closure passed.
“Two bandhs this week will hit the festive market hard,” rued Manik Lal Shaw on Rashbehari Avenue.
That fewer Calcuttans went to work was apparent underground, with Metro Railway carrying 50 per cent less passengers than on any given Tuesday. A Metro Rail official said low passenger turnout had forced them to reduce the frequency of trains.
But state home secretary Prasad Ranjan Ray stressed that the SUCI bandh did not disrupt normal life.
“There were a few roadblocks in south Calcutta, while rail roko was reported in Kalyani, Sealdah and some parts of South-24-Parganas. But the bandh was peaceful,” said Ray, adding that 120 bandh supporters had been arrested in town.
What the SUCI bandh could not do to the city, the strike called by the CPM-backed state government employees’ coordination committee did to Writers’ Buildings. The state’s seat of administration wore a deserted look on Tuesday. The home secretary admitted that attendance was less than two per cent.
Policemen had to unlock the chambers of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, finance minister Asim Dasgupta, health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra and industries minister Nirupam Sen, in the absence of regular staff members at Writers’.
“I support the coordination committee strike but had to come to office because of some urgent work,” said the finance minister.
Nirupam Sen played it with a dead bat. “It’s the employees who have called the strike. Who am I to comment'’ he asked.
The chief minister refused comment on the matter.
Writers’ will be as abustle on Wednesday as it was sleepy on Tuesday. The state machinery is gearing up to keep the city going, despite Mamata’s threat of a total shutdown.
Home secretary Ray said “adequate security arrangements” are being made to counter the 12-hour bandh.
“The police have been alerted and they will be on the streets in large numbers. As of now, there is no reason to worry. Police in the districts have also been told to maintain strict vigil and pre-empt trouble. If buses ply in large numbers, normal life will not be affected,” he added.
The fear of force being used to enforce the bandh, however, has prompted many educational institutions and various establishments to declare a holiday on Wednesday. Several others have decided to wait and watch .
Mamata, meanwhile, claimed that her partymen would not adopt violent means to impose the bandh.
“We will adopt democratic methods and if any untoward incident occurs on Wednesday, then the state government and the administration will be held responsible,” she said. “Violence is continuing for 11 months in Nandigram. We are left with no option but to bring the state to a standstill to protest the ‘don’t-care’ attitude of the Bengal government.”