The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Power seat in shutdown mode

The dual role — minister in a government that whispers “cholbe” and member of a union that shouts “cholbe na” — sits easy on Bengal’s leaders. Ask Mohd Amin, or Amar Choudhury, or Asim Dasgupta or….

An overwhelming majority of the 48-member ministry in the state decided to heed the Citu cry for a shutdown on Tuesday.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was a notable dissenter, as was minority affairs minister Mohammad Salim (who attended office for a brief while), but almost all other ministers seemed clear about where their primary loyalties lay.

“As a member of Citu, I felt going to work on Tuesday would not be right,” admitted labour minister Amin.

The finance minister gave similar reasons for staying put at his Salt Lake residence. “The strike against the Centre’s industrial policy and for the right to strike, are issues close to my heart,” was how he justified his day off.

PWD minister Amar Choudhury, of the RSP, was equally forthright: “I support the cause behind the bandh and that’s why I didn’t go to work.”

The chief minister cut a lonely figure as he turned up at Writers’ Buildings for a not-so-normal day in office. Asked why he was attending office on a day when the labour-arm of his party had called a bandh, Bhattacharjee remained mum.

Silence, yet again, was the weapon to stifle other uncomfortable questions. “I will comment when I have all the information,” was all he would say, when asked about reports of Citu cadre “verifying” the identity of those who ventured out on Tuesday — including journalists and policemen in plain clothes — and the disruption at the Stock exchange.

On his part, Bhattacharjee stuck to his usual schedule and kept two appointments. But according to Calcutta Police figures, only 123 (of a total workforce of 6,000-plus) clocked in at Writers’ Buildings on Tuesday.

Chief secretary Ashok Gupta, who said on Monday that every absentee would be penalised, did not utter another word in this regard on Tuesday.

Outside Writers’ Buildings, party cadre ruled the deserted roads. At Baguiati and Teghoria, even cars marked with ‘police’ stickers were stopped. “Anyone can say it’s a police vehicle,” the bandh brigade claimed, when asked by officials the cause for such vigilance.

Journalists faced the same treatment elsewhere, like on Park Street and Lower Circular Road, as cars with press stickers were stopped and the occupants’ identity verified.

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