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Silence speaks louder than pitch for strike

Bhattacharjee speaks at the rally in Shahid Minar on Sunday. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Calcutta, Feb. 10: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today spoke on several issues that the 11 central trade unions have flagged for their two-day nationwide shutdown, but the word strike did not feature in the speech.

Even as some of the other speakers, including CPM secretary Biman Bose, tried to drum support for the cause of the strike, Bhattacharjee, who had earlier convinced the state Citu leadership to convert the general strike on February 21 into an industrial strike, was mum on the topic.

Following the intervention of Bhattacharjee, the general strike on February 21 has been converted to an industrial strike as it coincides with Bhasha Divas, but today the CPM leader was silent on the strike.

Although the issue may stir a debate in the party and the Front — some Left unions still want a general strike on February 21 — sources said that canvassing for strikes was not possible for Bhattacharjee as he has made industrialisation the predominant theme in his speeches.

“Thousands of students are enrolled in schools and colleges in the state. There are around 80 to 90 engineering colleges in the state. Students in these institutes are thinking whether they will get jobs after passing out…. They want to know what will happen in Bengal after 5 years,” the former chief minister said.

In his 23-minute speech, Bhattacharjee made it clear that the future of the state was bleak.

Bhattacharjee has been slapped with a legal notice from Trinamul all-India general secretary Mukul Roy after the former chief minister’s interviews to two TV channels.

“We were slowly trying to change the situation in Bengal…. Industries were coming in areas like iron and steel and cement. We were trying to win over lost ground in the field of information technology and more than 80,000 people got jobs in Sector V in Salt Lake in five or six years. What will happen in the next five years?” he asked.

“Nothing will happen…. Industrialists are not coming to the state,” he added, capturing the despondency that has already set in as the new government has failed to attract any big-ticket investment in its first 20 months.

The former chief minister also dwelt on several national issues — rising prices across all segments of consumption items and the government’s focus on slashing its subsidy bill — and their impact on poor people.

The policy establishment in Delhi came under Bhattacharjee’s attack as he raised questions on the efficacy of formulating polices guided by the principle of markets and held this attitude responsible for decisions like decontrolling diesel price and slashing subsidy on LPG.

With their two-day strike, the central trade unions want to register their protest against these policies and mobilise public opinion against the government’s neoliberal policies.

In his speech, Bose urged people to come forward and make the strike successful.

Bhattacharjee’s approach, however, was different. “We have to make people aware of the fallout of such policies and build agitation across the country,” the former chief minister said.

Surjya Kanta Mishra, leader of the Opposition, also didn’t refer to the strike call in his speech.