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The cowardice of Calcutta
- Reluctance to rise against bandh call turns usual day at work into day to stay at home

State bus count down from 700 to 250

Taxi count down from 38,000 to 800

Metro Rail passenger count barely 30 per cent of normal

Attendance at Writers’ Buildings hardly 30 per cent

Attendance at CMC just about 50 per cent

Calcutta cowardice was on display yet again on Wednesday when a sudden bandh called by a partner of the Left Front managed to keep most of the city indoors.

By the time Forward Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh took pity on the city’s do-it-now populace and ended the 24-hour bandh at the 12-hour mark, the damage had been done.

Thanking the people for their “spontaneous” reaction in making the bandh “a resounding success” might have been stretching it — for compared to recent bandhs, the city was less of a wasteland on Wednesday — but Ghosh’s grand gesture was one tight slap on the face of a city supposedly on the move to make up for lost time.

“What happened on Wednesday proves that it does not matter who calls the bandh. As a city, we have forgotten how to step out of the crease — we are perennially on the back foot,” observed marketing consultant Shiloo Chattopadhyay, after Calcutta cowered under the first bandh of 2008.

The reluctance to rise against a bandh call that held out little threat of trouble — after all, neither the CPM nor Trinamul Congress was hitting the streets — meant that what could have been a near-normal day at work turned out to be yet another midweek stay-at-home day.

Sporadic trouble was restricted to a few Bloc pockets, where four buses were damaged and 258 bandh supporters arrested. State home secretary Prasad Ranjan Ray confirmed at the end of the bandh that “no major incident”, apart from train disruptions and roadblocks, had been reported.

“Normal functioning was reported from the airport, the information technology sector, the tea gardens and the industrial areas,” added Ray.

Then why was the rest of the city in a state of partial paralysis? Prasanta Ray, former professor of sociology at Presidency College, stopped short of calling if an act of cowardice.

“It’s more about being cautious. What seems like a passive acceptance of a bandh has a lot of layers. Some stay away because they feel it is not going to affect their monthly salary. The long-distance commuters stay home fearing disturbances and disruptions. And then there are the sheer opportunists, the lethargic lot,” explained the academician. There is really no solution to this in sight, he rued.

That was evident from the near-empty streets and the shut-down shops, the multiplexes that cancelled shows to the restaurants on Park Street that braved the bandh but failed to lure diners.

By the time the bandh was called off at 6pm, it was too late for the otherwise bustling shop-and-eat hangouts in town to come alive. If Forum and South City failed to even open their gates, City Centre fared better by recovering some footfall in the evening.

“This gives out such a wrong signal to the world that is watching us. So many things have changed in the city and yet, everything remains the same. All it needs is a bandh to highlight the most shameful Calcutta chromosome — cowardice,” said Indranil Dasgupta, back in his hometown after a decade in Mumbai and Singapore. “No wonder, no one wants to take Calcutta seriously.”

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