Sept 15: The Left today used the government’s reforms push to team up with non-Congress, non-BJP parties and announce a joint countrywide protest on September 20, while keeping its options open on a subsequent general strike in Bengal.
The comrades see the latest development as an opportunity to end their marginalisation in national politics and revive their connect with the people in lost strongholds Bengal and Kerala.
The Left Front in Bengal, rejoicing at Mamata Banerjee “fretting and fuming” in isolation, said if the general strike is called, it would take place in September so that people are not “disturbed” in the Puja month of October.
Sources said the decision would be taken on September 18, after seeing what Mamata does following the expiry of her deadline to the Centre to roll back the decisions on FDI in retail, diesel prices and LPG subsidy.
Front chairman Biman Bose clarified that all the Left parties in Bengal would also join the all-India protest, which coincides with the NDA’s September 20 strike call.
“Let there be a powerful protest on September 20 through hartals, picketing, demonstrations and court-arrest programmes,” said a statement issued in Delhi bearing the names of the leaders of the four Left parties as well as Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Biju Janata Dal’s Naveen Patnaik, Telugu Desam’s Chandrababu Naidu, and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Deve Gowda.
In Lucknow, Mayawati termed the Centre’s decisions “anti-people” and said the Bahujan Samaj Party would decide on October 9 or 10 whether to continue supporting the government, PTI added.
“The Samajwadi Party is very clear on FDI (in retail). We are not going to implement it in Uttar Pradesh,” chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said.
A CPM leader explained the party’s optimism, arguing that the current issues were different from the nuclear deal, which did not affect the common man directly.
“FDI in retail will directly hit the livelihoods of a large number of small and medium income groups. The diesel price hike will hit the farmers directly and everybody else by stoking inflation,” the source said.
The Left is keen to see what Mamata does on September 18. If she bites the bullet and withdraws support to the government, it could take the sting out of the Left’s agitation. A Congress-Trinamul split, however, will help it in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
“It suits us if Mamata fumes and frets but does not withdraw support to the government. Then we can expose her dual politics. However, if she quits the alliance, we can hope to gain in Bengal in 2014,” a CPM leader said.
Left leaders sought to downplay the trust deficit with the new allies and focused on utilising their combined strength for whatever period it was available.
“We know that none of these parties can be trusted for a long-term association. They can change colours and go with the BJP or the Congress. But if they are coming with us on issues we want to raise, then why not use them?” a CPM leader said.
Sources said the Left-led grouping and the NDA had actively sought to coincide their agitations for a wider impact. All the parties hope this will earn them political dividends at their strongholds.
CPM sources, however, denied any contact with the BJP. “We decided in the morning today while the NDA met late in the afternoon. What can we do if they choose the same date?” a party leader said.
In Calcutta, after an emergency front meeting, Biman Bose said: “If necessary, we might call a general strike in Bengal.”
He said the front would meet again on September 17 and 18 to decide the matter. Announcing a September-end deadline for any general strike, he said: “We don’t want to disturb the people in October, the month of the Puja.”
A general strike in Bengal tends to take the shape of an enforced bandh. A 24-hour nationwide general strike on February 28 this year, called by a conglomerate of 11 trade unions including Citu and Intuc, became a virtual bandh in Bengal.
At today’s front meeting, Forward Bloc leader Hafiz Ali Sairani first suggested an immediate Bengal bandh. But CPI state secretariat member Swapan Banerjee said it would be “wise to wait till September 18 when Mamata’s ultimatum ends”, Sairani later told The Telegraph.