The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rally’s forgotten soldiers

Calcutta, Oct. 9: Nripen Biswas used to be at the forefront of rallies and meetings to save Beni Engineering in the mid-1980s. A card-holder of the Citu till two years ago, he still writes slogans on the wall, exhorting people to “rally against imperialism, globalisation and liberalisation”, for the CPM.

But he firmly opposes rallies, he says, explaining that his wall-writing is a “residential hazard” — he lives in Kamarhati where red flags outnumber others as they flutter atop shut factory gates.

Yesterday, at the “mass convention” in Mahajati Sadan, Left Front leaders said they would go on with rallies and strikes as these were the “last weapons for those without jobs because of the Centre’s liberalisation policy”. Calling rallies a “right earned by struggle”, they refused to let them go without a fight.

Today, The Telegraph visited an area (in the northern suburbs) where industry once thrived. Many are now shut — they stopped manufacturing years before the “Centre’s liberalisation policy” started — and every neighbourhood has a few jobless homes. They are the ones whose misfortune lends “legitimacy” to rallies and processions, according to the front leadership.

Among the dispossessed, who live on the fringes of the city and of its consciousness, rallies have lost meaning. Everyone who spoke (some names are changed because of “residential” and other hazards they may face) said rallies had stopped serving their purpose and they — the jobless — should not be dragged into a controversy that was not theirs.

Take Biswas, for instance. He saw Beni Engineering close down, first in June 1978, and then sputter back to life before dying finally in 1987. “Five unions (including Citu) colluded with the management to shut the factory and then steal its assets.”

“As one of the movers behind the innumerable ‘movements’, I now realise how we were duped by our leadership,” he added.

“If they served any purpose, I wouldn’t have been reduced to selling my wedding rings.”

Usha (that made motor parts till 1987) was another factory that closed down pre-liberalisation. It shut after labour problems over dearness allowance.

Ram Lal and Parmatma Singh, two of the 686-member workforce, regretted the circumstances in which the shutdown occurred. “Rallies used to take place everyday to whip up support for ‘our’ cause,” they said.

“No one now bothers to enquire about us,” Singh said. “Rallies are still organised by our zonal (Citu) leadership but we have stopped going there,” Lal added. “Bahut bharosa kiya (We had a lot of faith) but it was misplaced,” Singh — surviving on odd jobs — added.

U.K. Sengupta, a former employee of Kamala Engineering — one of BT Road’s smokestacks that have stopped belching smoke — agreed. He did not witness any union shenanigans first hand but, from whatever he had seen, he suspected if workers had gained anything from rallies.

“As a worker, I feel that those who use us as shields to deflect criticism against disruptive rallies are doing a great disservice to the working community,” he added.

Angelo Brothers was a lac-making firm that saw labour problems — starting in the early 1980s — shut it down in the mid-1990s. As security officer, Navdeep Singh saw how the union helped in pilfering the company’s machines, besides holding rallies and meetings.

“If they were really any solution, Angelo — 98 per cent of its produce was exported — and the other shutdown factories would have been humming with activity right now,” he said.

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