It is almost like a new era in West Bengal. Almost. The chief minister has said that no government employee who is absent from work on February 28, the day of the all-India industrial strike, will be granted leave. There is not only firmness in this but partial consistency too, for the statement falls in line with the general anti-bandh approach that Mamata Banerjee has been championing as chief of government. Actually, this attitude is slightly older. Towards the end of her stint as Opposition leader, Ms Banerjee had displayed her sense of responsibility by refusing to call bandhs or support them even if they were called by allies. But that came after years of disruptive rallies and bandhs by the Trinamul Congress. The sudden anti-disruption stance had a very persuasive political cause: Ms Banerjee was out to win all segments of the urban vote and show by her actions that Bengal would turn around if she came to power. Now she is undoubtedly doing her best, but is it enough for people to forget that the anti-strike passion is of rather recent vintage?
To be fair, is there any leader in Bengal who has a principled stand regarding strikes, be it for or against? Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has just demonstrated that bandhs are neither good nor bad, only position makes them so. He has publicly declared that his tirade against strikes when he was chief minister was a “mistake” — a word he loves — and he and his party are out to turn the industrial strike into a general strike just to dare the government to “foil” them. There is a perfection to this volte face. Once again, people will carry on with their lives all over India during the industrial strike on February 28 while the brilliant politicians and their mindless followers in Bengal shut the state down in a show of muscle. The “challenge” is all the Communist Party of India (Marxist), eloquently championed by Mr Bhattacharjee, can think of, hoping that the government will have no option but to come down hard. Violence is welcome, because it will disguise success or failure by intimidating people. It is an unfortunate state that deserves such leaders, and a farcical situation where strikes and bandhs evoke no consistent response from them.