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‘Suicidal’ Left supports general strike

- First two-day shutdown from February 20 since 1966 could dent CPM image

Calcutta, Jan. 29: The Left Front today supported a 48-hour general strike called by central Left trade unions from February 20, the first time such a long shutdown will be held in Bengal in 47 years.

The move has brought to the fore the Opposition combine’s “irresponsible and suicidal” politics of throwing the economy out of gear, CPM sources admitted.

It has also given a handle to chief minister Mamata Banerjee to attack Almuddin Street once again, the sources added.

An Alimuddin Street source said the strike call had come at an inopportune moment as Bengal was “tottering’’ on the industrial front. He said it would send wrong signals to potential investors.

“The general strike has been thrust upon us by our central leaders. It will be a big blow to the industry prospects of Bengal. The state is tottering, the economic and industrial scenario is bad. People will brand us an irresponsible party on a suicide mission,” the source said.

The Trinamul government’s hands-off land policy has put a question mark on the future of industry in Bengal. The economic scenario isn’t good either as the state is “struggling” to shell out more than Rs 25,000 crore annually on account of debt-servicing.

On the other hand, former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been asserting at every public meeting that industry is the best answer to the state’s economic ills and that not single industrial unit has come up in Bengal during Trinamul’s 20-month rule.

“Given the state’s condition and Buddhada’s repeated pitch for industry, a two-day bandh will affect the Left’s image badly,” a CPM leader said.

Industries minister Partha Chatterjee dubbed the CPM anti-people. “At a time we are holding industry summits, the CPM is calling a two-day bandh. That shows how anti-people the CPM is. The people will reject the bandh call,” he said

According to a CPM leader, the Left’s support to the general strike would give another opportunity to the chief minister to blame the party for its disruptive politics.

“When in power, we had called several strikes. But now we are in the Opposition. We need to be seen as behaving responsibly. But this shutdown will help Mamata Banerjee allege again that the Left believes in destruction and status quo only,” the party leader said.

In 2006, Mamata, who was fasting to protest land acquisition in Singur, had called a two-day bandh after the alleged murder of land agitator Tapasi Malik. However, she called off the bandh on the second day after the shutdown flopped.

Never in the past had the CPM and the Left held a two-day bandh in Bengal except during the food movement in 1966. Then, a one-day bandh was extended by a day because of “people’s support”, the party sources said.

According to CPM old-timer Kali Ghosh, also a former Citu state secretary, the “spontaneity” of people participating in the Left’s food movement was the prime reason for the extension.

“It was a spontaneous extension of the bandh. That was because of indiscriminate police firing,” Ghosh said.

However, he admitted that the February 20-21 strike was a planned one that would cause difficulties to the public.

“You cannot compare this February strike with the two-day shutdown in 1966. People will face difficulties now. But what do we do? We need to make small sacrifices,” Ghosh said.

The strike will be held to protest price rise, FDI in retail and other issues.

Asked about the extent of loss that Bengal will suffer, CPM state secretariat member Mohammad Salim said: “It’s true that a two-day strike called by central trade unions didn’t happen in Bengal earlier. It can cause inconvenience. But we will have to fight for the interests of the poor people.”

The Left, however, will try to “give some relaxations” on February 21.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose said after a meeting at Alimuddin Street today: “February 21 is International Bhasa Divas. So we will ask the state trade unions to give some relaxation on February 21 morning. Children take out prabhat pheris (processions). We will ask the unions to allow buses carrying them to reach their respective venues.”