The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Citu strains at leash, city gasps

Calcutta, May 21: New Left took a forced holiday, allowing Old Citu to work overtime.

The CPM’s labour wing — held on leash of late by the pro-reform hand of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — picked out a string of soft targets today to enforce the “industrial strike’ that became a Bengal bandh and reassure restive ranks that the union is still fighting fit.

The day started with supporters of the bandh targeting the railway track. Three passengers standing by the door of a local train were admitted to a hospital after being hit on the head by stones.

In Calcutta, a senior South Eastern Railway official was pulled out of his car and roughed up by suspected Citu activists near Phoolbagan while on his way to office. His “fault”: he had tried to explain that he was working for a public utility service and “had” to attend office.

Next, it was the turn of a pilot who was to take an Indian Airlines flight to Guwahati. He was intercepted a few hundred metres from the airport on VIP Road and asked to turn back. Senior airport officials rushed to the spot to reason. Reason, however, was the last thing on the minds of those who were bent on stopping anything that moved towards the airport.

An army vehicle, too, was sought to be stopped but the strong-arm tactics did not pay off there.

The desperate attempt today at muscle-flexing has capped a series of events that have led to a steady erosion of the support base of what was once the most militant face of India’s labour force.

Some of the Central policies, like closure of sick units, being opposed in today’s strike are pursued by the Left Front government, too, pushing the Citu on the back foot before its rank and file and often standing in the way of more pronounced protests.

“The state government’s decision to shut down over a dozen loss-making state public sector units has forced us to adopt an unusually docile posture even vis-à-vis the Centre’s decisions,” a senior Citu leader admitted. “Besides, the unions are forced to play second fiddle to the management in many sectors and that has dented the force’s morale,” he added.

The impact was telling on the ground: the Citu’s loss of the prestigious Hindustan Motors trade union in Hooghly to a more aggressive Left outfit — unprecedented in the state — and the Naxalite unions’ growth in almost every sector (always at the CPM union’s expense).

North 24-Parganas CPM district secretariat member Amitava Nandi admitted that what happened today was not “desirable”. “We will look into the specific complaints,” he said.

Journalists, usually given right of way during bandhs, did not escape surveillance and some were blocked from covering incidents. Explaining the occupational hazard, Citu general secretary Chittabrata Majumdar said a right was “not a gift and had to be acquired”.

Police also had their share of shame. A traffic sergeant was filmed by a television channel crew while deflating a tyre of a taxi on Park Street.

The police have sought the footage to identify the sergeant and take action “if it is proved that he really deflated the taxi’s tyre”.


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