Films, television, music, books, food, fashion, celebrities, politicians — you name it, it’s been rated. So, when the Left and the Trinamul Congress imposed back-to-back bandhs on Bengal on Thursday and Friday, Metro decided to start the Big Bandh Face-off to find out who was better at it.
Both parties were rated in terms of how much they flexed their muscles, how far they went in harassing citizens, how they mobilised or dodged the administration, how much damage they caused — economic or otherwise — and how much innovation they brought to the old bandh plot. And the winner is….
Thursday: Wielding flags and sticks, Biman Bose’s boys — red bandannas in place — were out on the streets at the crack of dawn with a message for Calcutta: “Step out at your own peril.”
The ruling party’s brawn was nowhere more visible than at Calcutta airport, where Citu workers ensured that ticket and check-in counters were closed throughout the day. At Gate No. 1 of the airport, a group of bandh enforcers used every method of intimidation— from deflating car tyres to forcing passengers off taxis and rickshaws — while a police team watched from a distance.
Intimidation was reported from other parts of the city, too, from Kasba to Kamarhati and Behala to Baguiati.
Friday: It was like any other day at the airport’s Gate No. 1. Cars zoomed in and out freely. A CPM stronghold, the entire area was out of bounds for Mamata Banerjee’s brood. Trinamul activists did, however, flex their muscles in parts of the city. The party took out a procession from Science City and organised rallies at places like Hazra and Girish Park.
“Enforcing a bandh is an art the CPM has perfected,” said a retired police officer.
Thursday: As in a one-day match where the team batting first puts up a seemingly unassailable total, the CPM’s disruption scorecard would have demoralised Trinamul even before it took strike. The scorecard at the end of the day read: 50 flights cancelled, all trains either cancelled or withheld, only 10,000 passengers on Metro Railway between 7am and 6pm and less than one per cent attendance — a mere 25 out of 6,500 employees — at Writers’.
Sector V in Salt Lake had its lowest bandh attendance ever: around 70 per cent. According to an unofficial estimate, the actual figure would be between 55 and 60 per cent. Except shops on Alimuddin Street, the CPM headquarters, traders kept shutters down.
Friday: Flight schedules were normal and Metro recorded a much higher footfall — a lakh-plus — between 7am and 6pm. The streets were deserted, but Trinamul workers were less conspicuous than the red brigade. The turnout at Writers’ was around 2,000 and attendance at Sector V was 85 per cent. All 19 markets run by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation were open.
Thursday: The security bandobast couldn’t have been better. As many as 5,000 police personnel were deployed and 117 pickets set up, backed by 25 “heavy-radio flying squad” and 60 “radio flying squad” vehicles. And what did they do to help citizens out to defy the bandh? Nothing. Not a single person was arrested.
The entire fleet of 800 state-owned buses remained parked in depots.
Friday:The level of deployment was the same, but the attitude was different. Police patrolled Trinamul strongholds and 250 people were arrested in the state, police inspector-general Raj Kanojia said.
Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said at Writers’ that 300 buses plied.
“The CPM has always used government machinery to make its bandhs successful and foil protests by others,” said Partha Chatterjee, the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.
Thursday: Public and private property wasn’t damaged, but industry suffered. The secretary of the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, D.P. Nag, said output declined by 80 per cent. Bengal’s image took a beating, too. Several meetings, including one of Nasscom, were cancelled.
Friday: Production was down by 60 to 65 per cent, according to an estimate. “As if one bandh wasn’t bad enough, we had two days of disruption. The state lost at least Rs 1,500 crore,” said a chamber official.
Thursday: Comrade Lagan Deo Singh tried to ease the woes of stranded passengers in Howrah by organising a bus service for them.
Friday: Mamata went a step further and reduced the bandh period by an hour and a half.