Calcutta, Sept. 16: Not scenarios I, II or III but the tried-and-tired scenario of a bandh will unfold in Bengal and some parts of the country on Thursday in protest against the diesel price hike and the decision to throw open retail to foreign investors.
The CPM-led Left Front in both Bengal and Tripura will enforce a general strike on Thursday, coinciding with the NDA-sponsored Bharat bandh.
In the competitive but complementary politics of bandh on the same day, the Left will cripple its strongholds for 12 hours from 6am on Thursday.
The BJP-led NDA has officially called for a 24-hour Bharat bandh but has unofficially left it to state units to decide how long they want to enforce it. A leader in Delhi said the bandh would be effective in the capital for “six to seven hours” till 1pm or 2pm, suggesting that the party does not want to inconvenience traders, in whose protection the shutdown is being called, in the busy festival season.
The decision to press ahead with the strike reaffirms a confrontation on the economic choices listed by the Prime Minister yesterday when he referred to three scenarios carrying varying prospects of growth.
Left leaders maintained that the general strike in Bengal and Tripura was part of an all-India “protest day” on Thursday, called by eight parties — the Samajwadi Party, the BJD, JD(S), TDP and the Left quartet — across the country.
From among several modes of agitation — hartal, picket, demonstration and courting arrest — listed for the protest day, the Left Front has picked hartal for Bengal and Tripura, presumably because of its clout in the two states.
The Left constituents will protest through other forms in other states. Kerala has been exempt from the Left’s Thursday strike because the alliance there has beaten the others to the draw by enforcing a hartal yesterday.
CPM state secretary Biman Bose announced that the Left Front would observe a 12-hour strike in Bengal between 6am and 6pm on September 20.
“If they (Congress and its allies) have declared a war against the country and the people, we cannot sit idle,” he said at the CPM headquarters in Calcutta, with party general secretary Prakash Karat beside him.
Bose, also the Left Front chairman, said shops, business establishments, educational institutions, government offices, transport services and railways would remain shut on Thursday.
Karat, who would not be averse to reaffirming his anti-Congress credentials after supporting Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature for President, said the eight parties “have together called for a countrywide protest on September 20 when the country will shut down and there will be a strike”.
However, the Trinamul Congress and its ally Congress said they would oppose the bandh.
Bengal panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said the government would do everything within its powers to foil Thursday’s bandh. “We are opposed to bandhs. Our government will do all that it has to do to foil the bandh and ensure people can come to work. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee will announce the measures that will be taken in a day or two,” Mukherjee said.
The minister said the CPM and the BJP had joined hands to weaken the Trinamul Congress’s movement against introduction of FDI in retail, hike in diesel price and ceiling on subsidised domestic LPG cylinders.
In the previous bandhs called by the trade unions, including the Left and the BJP, the Mamata Banerjee government had barred employees from taking leave on a bandh day. The employees who failed to turn up had faced a day’s pay cut.
State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya said the party would oppose the Left-sponsored bandh in Bengal. “Our workers will be on the streets to foil the Left-sponsored bandh,” he said.