| A pumped-up chief minister at a function on Wednesday morning. Hours later, Mamata Banerjee decided to push back the 48-hour bandh call. Picture by Aranya Sen
The fear of a flight of capital has come back home to roost in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Bengal, with the return of the bandh culture.
Desperate to prevent a repeat of the turbulent 70s and 80s, when investments shunned Bengal and flew to other attractive destinations, eight city-based chambers of commerce came together on Wednesday with a call to end a month of bandh madness.
“I have received frantic phone calls from our members in other states, expressing anguish over the spate of bandhs. Some of them are revisiting their plans for the state,” said Mukul Somany, chairman, West Bengal State Council, CII eastern region.
He did not name the companies, but the message was loud and clear. All the chamber representatives echoed similar feelings in the first-ever show of strength, which saw them taking a pledge to keep offices open to defy the 48-hour bandh diktat.
The news of Mamata Banerjee keeping the bandh in abeyance in view of Christmas came later in the day. But the chambers were cautiously optimistic in their reaction.
“We welcome the move… But with the hope that there will be no bandhs in the future,” said Aloke Mookherjea, president, Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The impact of disruption — both tangible and intangible — on a growing Bengal economy was the highlight at the joint meeting of the chambers on Wednesday afternoon.
Bengal Chamber estimates peg the loss to the state on a bandh day between Rs 900 crore and Rs 1,200 crore, depending on the season.
“But the bigger loss is the blow to the image of the state… Investment is an act of faith,” said Sanjay Budhia, vice-president, Indian Chamber of Commerce.
Ashit Luthra, director of Manpasand Manpower, a company specialising in manpower-related solutions and salary disbursement, has learnt this the hard way. His company failed to meet some cheque disbursal deadlines due to the spate of bandhs and Luthra found himself in the line of fire from his clients, some of them even asking him to relocate to other cities.
“We have come under a lot of pressure from both employers and staff of the firms… Nobody outside Bengal understands the language of bandhs. If you don’t deliver, you are branded inefficient,” Luthra lamented.
In Bhattacharjee’s “do-it-now” Bengal, no one wants a tag like that.