| Bandh supporters damage a bus at Esplanade. Picture by Amit Datta
A groundswell of public outrage over Nandigram brought Calcutta to a halt on Monday, in response to the bandh called by opposition parties.
The spontaneity of the people’s participation in the protest was evident in state home secretary Prasad Ranjan Ray’s comment that the bandh was “peaceful” and that “no major violence was reported” from anywhere in the city.
Even techies in the 24x7 IT industry in Salt Lake’s Sector V broke from tradition and refrained from signing in, despite being exempted from the shutdown.
“I believe bandhs do not serve any purpose. But watching the state-sponsored atrocities in Nandigram, I felt an urge to bring the state to a standstill,” said Devlina Ganguly, who works in a Salt Lake BPO outfit.
There were some who attributed the success of the “total bandh” to the timing. “The fact that it was a Monday allowed people to extend their festive weekend. If the bandh would have continued on Tuesday, surely many people would have defied it and gone to work,” said Sunil Agarwal, a young entrepreneur.
Home secretary Ray said attendance at Writers’ Buildings and other government offices in the city and in the districts was “very poor”, though the CPM-controlled state government employees coordination committee claimed around 70 per cent of the employees had turned up for work.
Perhaps gauging the public mood, police toned down their response to public protest. The number of arrests dropped from 90-plus on Sunday to 33 on Monday.
“The thrust was more on persuasion than using force,” said a senior officer. The mobs that had gheraoed Kalighat and Bhowanipore police stations were sweet-talked into withdrawing the siege.
At Esplanade in the afternoon, the cops set up a barricade between pro- and anti-bandh activists to ensure they did not clash.
Elsewhere in the city, the police were pro-active in diverting the traffic trickle so as to avoid any confrontation with processions of protest.
Bandh supporters destroyed five buses in the city. In Joka, former Trinamul Congress MLA Dilip Mondal was injured in a clash with police when his supporters attacked stranded vehicles.
The bandh led to disruption of both flight and train schedules. Two Air India flights — to Kathmandu and Aizawl — were cancelled and one was delayed by around four hours. Some airlines clubbed their flights because of poor passenger turnout.
Many suburban and long-distance trains on both Eastern and South Eastern railways were disrupted. At Barasat railway station, a 100-strong group of bandh supporters ransacked the ticket counters.
The transport department claimed that 400 buses were deployed in the morning and 300 in the evening in the city.