The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Strike straw for Citu on the brink

Did Thursday's shutdown of Bengal signal the return of the CITU' Was it Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's defeat to the enemy within'

Political and business circles as well as the common people would be debating such questions after what they witnessed that day. It is not so much the impact of the bandh in Bengal that stirred such questions. That a Left-sponsored bandh can paralyse life in Bengal is the worst kept secret of Indian politics. What was rather unexpected was the way the Citu made it a show of strength, almost throwing the gauntlet down at Bhattacharjee.

Yet, the first impressions could be wrong. The Citu may have harmed Bengal's ' and Bhattacharjee's ' interests more than it hurt the UPA government, against whose policies the all-India strike was called. But the militancy may well backfire on the Citu.

Far from the victory that its leaders may like to see in the bandh, it was actually a desperate act by an organisation that has found itself increasingly marginalised even within the CPM.

Not just its militancy, but the Citu itself has become out of place in the new policies of both Bhattacharjee and his party.

The outfit, that once called the shots in industries, big and small, across Bengal, is today powerless to fix wages, let alone organise old-style labour movements.

In trying to use the strike in order to regain lost ground, the Citu seems to have badly miscalculated its political and popular impact. The way its members overreached themselves to enforce the strike may actually push it further into a bind. And, they have given Bhattacharjee and his fellow-travellers in the party a handle to put them in their place.

That the chief minister was extremely upset with the Citu's ways on bandh day was evident in the sulk and the silence into which he retreated. There were signals, too. Nirupam Sen, the commerce and industries minister, and Bhattacharjee's lieutenant in the change-Bengal charge, openly called the bandh 'unwarranted'. The transport minister, Subhas Chakraborty, not exactly a Bhattacharjee acolyte otherwise, also rubbished the politics of bandhs.

All this adds up to one thing ' the chief minister was clearly angry, but other party leaders were also keen to distance themselves from the Citu's bandh show.

It does not, however, mean that the party had nothing to do with the strike. The all-India strike was aimed at expanding the Left's influence elsewhere in the country.

Ironically, Bengal, the Left's main base, had to suffer so that it could make some gains in other states.

But, thanks to the party being in power, Bengal has also taken the development route. A bandh is the worst thing that still happen to a chief minister who is so anxious to woo investors. This has the party caught in its own contradictions.

One of the ways the party has been managing the contradictions is to constantly change itself and put down militancy, particularly on the labour front. What the Citu has done, Bhattacharjee will argue, is a blatant violation of the policy adjustments accepted by the party. Given its political compulsions, the party may not openly declare war on the Citu in Bengal, but it will move closer to the chief minister's side in the battle.

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