|CPM cadres provide bread and milk to children on a train stuck at Burdwan station on Tuesday morning. Picture by Indranil Sarkar
April 27: The bandh brigade made people suffer across most of the state and wherever it tried to provide some succour, it was greeted by curses.
CPM cadres provided a bread-and-milk breakfast free to some of the stranded train passengers and their children but charged Rs 17 for a lunch of rice, dal, vegetable curry and egg. It was Rs 18 if they wanted a piece of fish rather than an egg.
Sitting on the platform of Burdwan station and fanning himself with a newspaper, Sheikh Illyas from Pune asked: Can some food provided by the CPM, for which I have to pay, compensate for the suffering that my children are facing in this heat?
To give the general strike a people-friendly face, CPM state secretary Biman Bose had announced that the organisers of the strike would provide milk for children and food for all passengers while their trains were stranded at different stations.
Illyas, a 38-year-old trader, was travelling back from Siliguri after a visit to north Bengal with his wife and two children — a five-year-old son and a three-month-old daughter — on the Kanchankanya Express.
He had not known about the strike and was distressed when he learnt that the train, which had entered the station at seven in the morning, would not move for the next 11 hours.
His worries were in no way reduced when some Citu activists came with milk and bread around nine.
My biggest worry is how to get to Sealdah on time, Illyas said. I have to catch the Azad Hind Express from Howrah station at 10 at night. It is a two-hour journey from here to Sealdah and even if we reach at eight, we will struggle to get to Howrah in time. How can we take any comfort from the fact that some CPM people are serving food?
The privilege provided to Burdwan station, in an area the CPM considers its fortress, was denied to most other stations dotting south Bengal.
In Durgapur, Asansol and Raniganj, in another part of Burdwan, passengers had to make do with whatever food some NGOs handed out or go hungry. There was no one from the CPM to help them, whatever the party chiefs assertion may have been.
In many stations, the railways operated their canteens. In East Midnapore, now a Trinamul Congress bastion, it was the CPMs rival which came to the aid of harried passengers.
Thirty-four-year-old Ganesh Singh, a trader from Howrahs Salkia, was worried sick when the Yeshwantpur-Howrah Express halted in Panskura station because with him was his three-year-old daughter who had just had heart surgery.
I was returning from Vellore, Singh said.
My daughter is very unwell and we were travelling in the sleeper compartment which is not air-conditioned. So in the heat, my daughter really started feeling unwell.
The Trinamul-run Panskura municipality stepped in and arranged for an ambulance to ferry them to Calcutta.
In the evening, Bose alleged that Trinamul had prevented CPM workers from distributing food to the passengers but there was little evidence of that on the ground.