The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha pushes, Calcutta stuck

June 27: When Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made a passionate appeal to the Prime Minister in Delhi today for funds to modernise the Calcutta airport, he would not have known that a family was stranded at that same place because there was no transport to take them home.

Calcutta was paralysed by a strike. Nothing moved ' buses, trams, taxis.

Apurba Jana had travelled from Brussels to Calcutta with his family but could not go to Howrah station to complete the journey to his ancestral home in Midnapore.

Why ask for funds for the airport'

Bhattacharjee’s government is very much a party to the strike, called by Citu, the CPM’s labour wing, because the Left Front is supporting it. No better evidence than the complete absence of state-owned transport from the streets.

While parents were stranded with sick children, Bhattacharjee was asking for central money for the airport, a seaport, fishing harbour and for roads at a meeting of the National Development Council.

“We are grateful to the Prime Minister for initiating the look-east strategy for which Calcutta is the gateway to Southeast Asia,” he said.

The statement looked incongruous on a day “the gateway” was completely shut down in protest against the oil price increase.

Higher oil prices are pinching every state, but only Calcutta is struck numb.

“Bengal because we are strong here,” declared Biman Bose, a senior CPM leader.

In Delhi, his party colleague Bhattacharjee was saying the number of international flights originating from or passing through Calcutta must be increased.

The chief minister also spoke of how Bengal was getting a raw deal in the devolution of funds from the Centre.

Bengal’s “relative share in (central funds) has been reduced from 8.116 per cent to 7.057 per cent”, he said.

Bhattacharjee’s criticism may seem of a piece with the decision yesterday of the Left parties to suspend participation in the meetings of the coordination panel formed with the Congress-led alliance.

But this complaint is not new. It may acquire some stridency, though, because of the Assembly elections next year in Bengal and Kerala, where the allies in Delhi ' the Congress and the Left ' will be pitted against each other.

In Bengal, be prepared for more disruptions ' “people’s movement”, according to Bose ' over the coming 11 months.

“Today’s transport strike is not an isolated event,” said Jyoti Basu. “There will be several such events in the coming days, a bandh, a hartal'.”

Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee believes the CPM is trying to establish its “anti-Congress stance before the polls”.

After today’s strike, Shyamal Chakraborty, the state Citu chief, said the Bengal experience had encouraged the Left to consider a Bharat ' in effect, only Bengal ' bandh.

“Who told you the business community is unhappy'” asked Chakraborty.

The regional chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Ravi Poddar, for one. “The strike is detrimental to the interest of Bengal,” he said. “The strike organisers must realise it now.”

In Delhi, Bhattacharjee was saying: “Japan’s FDI in India is highest in Bengal and our trade with them is growing. However, strengthening our roads, railways, ports and airports is an essential pre-requisite for such growth.”

Tell that to Apurba Jana and his family.

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