The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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What the rest of India abhors, West Bengal loves. While the rest of India braced itself to face the implications and the consequences of the Supreme Courtís decision making strikes illegal, West Bengal celebrated with a day-long bandh. The state followed this up with a transport strike and a strike by petrol pump dealers. Both these were for three days respectively, but were called off after the first day as the government chose to climb down and reconsider its decisions on the new road tax and the sales tax on fuel. Without going into the merits of the transport strike and the strike by petrol pump owners, a wider question needs to be clarified. On all three counts, the West Bengal government failed. In the day-long bandh called by the Socialist Unity Centre of India, the government could not ensure that life ran in its normal speed and routine. In the other two cases, the government just caved in ó or to put it more bluntly, capitulated to blackmail. The principal factor behind this failure is the fact that West Bengal is perhaps the only place that has to suffer bandhs and strikes sponsored by the state itself. On innumerable occasions, the party that rules West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has brought life to a halt through bandhs to protest against one thing or the other. With this track record, the government of West Bengal has little or no moral grounds to either object to bandhs or to enforce the Supreme Courtís verdict. It is too early for the poacher to turn gamekeeper.

Embedded in the idea of a general strike is something that is undemocratic. A strike is always called by an active and militant minority which claims to speak for society and then interprets the passivity of the masses as implicit support for the strike. This is what makes the strike, in leftist wisdom, a legitimate weapon of protest. Strikers seldom reckon with the fact that their protests hamper and injure others; a strike infringes on the rights of others. There can, of course, be valid grounds for protesting against a perceived injustice. But whether that sense of injustice can be articulated through ways that are harmful to others in society is a moot question. Even in the canons of leftism, there is no adequate answer to this vexed issue since in such writing it is always assumed that the working class has a right to speak for the whole of society. This kind of surrogatism has no place in a democratic society and certainly not in a society where the vast majority lives in abject poverty and earns a daily wage. The wise men can debate such issues. West Bengal wants nothing more than to carry on with life without let or hindrance.

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