The hunt for a holiday never ends in West Bengal. Any occasion is good enough for taking a break from work. And, such is the lure of the holiday that no section of society is quite able to resist it. The lawyers of the Calcutta High Court did not, therefore, do anything extraordinary when they decided that having a holiday was the best way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the court. The chief justice, A.K. Mishra, did not quite see things that way. But that did not matter to the lawyers who knew the court — and the state — better than Mr Mishra, who had taken up his job only last month. Nor did it matter to the lawyers that the number of pending cases at the court stood at over 3.6 lakh at the last count. The way the hearing of a case in Mr Mishra’s court was stopped mid-way because of the lawyers’ decision is symptomatic of the notorious work culture in Bengal. His resolve to carry on with his work even in the absence of lawyers is best treated as a standing rebuke to that culture. But the incident also captures the powerlessness of the head of an institution to set things right. It shows how difficult it can be for those who want to do their work in Bengal.
It has been a long time since Bengal’s lack of work culture came to be known far and wide. Stopping work came to be the central element of leftist politics in the state. When the leftists came to power, thanks largely to their ability to stop work, the practice seemed to have got official approval. Mamata Banerjee ended the leftists’ long reign with the promise of changing much in Bengal, including its infamous work culture. That promise now lies discarded with the chief minister herself presiding over the holiday culture. She rarely lets go an opportunity of declaring a new holiday or extending the existing ones. Even a former prime minister’s death is turned into an occasion for a prolonged break from routine work. It appears that holiday-making has become a crucial element in her strategy of winning hearts and votes. With the chief minister herself showing the way, one cannot perhaps blame the lawyers too much for giving themselves an unscheduled holiday. Yet, the ruinous state of Bengal’s economy demands a very different attitude to work. It may be cynical to say that things in Bengal must get worse before they get any better. But that may well be the case.