The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Battle lost, war rages

Calcutta, Dec. 14: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s writ ran to an extent in the new economy, in the rest of the state Citu ruled as the administration decided to take the day off.

A strike as this Bengal hasn’t seen since September 29, 2005, when, too, Citu was the organiser. After the administration proved during the last two Opposition-sponsored strikes that if it wants, it can keep things moving, the chief minister was asked what he intended to do during the December 14 strike. Bhattacharjee had said: “One government, one rule.”

Today, when told of the total shutdown, a grim-faced chief minister simply said: “Ask those who called the strike.”

CPM state secretary Biman Bose echoed him. Usually effusive about such actions, he said: “Ask the trade unions.”

The government and the party are putting a distance between themselves and Citu, indicating that December 14 has come and gone but the battle to prevent acts that dent Bengal’s image and the effort to draw industry will continue.

For the chief minister, the only success was Sector V in Salt Lake, the state’s IT hub. “It’s more than normal (there),” he said.

The picture was mixed. Attendance in BPOs was high — “90 per cent”, according to IT secretary Sidharth — as they brought in employees before the strike began. But in software companies, even by the government’s admission, attendance was “50 per cent”.

Last year’s IT-disrupting strike was a landmark event that set the stage for the tussle between the chief minister, who vowed to protect 24x7 companies from a recurrence, and Citu, which didn’t see any reason why it should make such a concession for one sector.

In the 14 months since, one thing has changed. Citu promised not to stop IT employees from going to work and kept it. CPM-ruled Kerala also enjoyed that privilege, though it too was paralysed.

In the context of the struggle with the government and the party in Bengal, Citu’s central leaders like its president M.K. Pandhe had gone out of their way to ensure complete shutdown by putting pressure on its state unit.

“Citu cannot take a Bengal-specific stand,” Pandhe said, meaning that there cannot be one rule for this state and another for the rest of India.

The rest of India, however, does not matter as today it was barely aware of the strike, proving once again Citu has no influence outside states that are under CPM control.

Chittabrata Majumdar, Citu’s general secretary who was moved out of Bengal to Delhi, refuses to even acknowledge the government’s argument that strikes deter investors. “Industrialists must consider it a part of the game.”

Shyamal Chakraborty, who replaced him as the union’s Bengal president and has been trying to strike a balance, however, had words of sympathy for the chief minister.

“As head of government, it was his duty to maintain normality. But he can’t run buses by remote control if workers join the strike,” he said.

There was no evidence of buses being sent to help Howrah passengers as planned.

Under pressure from the government and the party, Citu’s Bengal unit might find itself increasingly at odds with the central leaders.

While this will be the sideshow, the bigger battle between the section of the party represented by Bhattacharjee and Citu’s central leadership will occupy centre stage.

The two sides come face to face next month at the CPM’s central committee meeting.

CPM general secretary Prakash Karat has to decide between promoting his party’s governance interests in Bengal and pushing the ambition of expanding its influence elsewhere with Citu’s support.

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