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Mamata appeal to defy strike - CM calls upon people to keep state moving

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  • Published 26.02.12

Calcutta, Feb. 25: Mamata Banerjee today urged people not to support or join Citu’s February 28 general strike, becoming the first Bengal chief minister in memory to have issued a public appeal against a shutdown.

“Don’t allow road blockades on the slightest pretext. Don’t join any bandh. Don’t be influenced by any provocation,” Mamata told a gathering of 15,000 at an official event for the unorganised sector at the Salt Lake stadium.

Unorganised workers —mainly day labourers — are the worst sufferers during a general strike.

“Keep your homes running, your families active; be active and keep the state moving. Be with the government and the government will be with you,” Mamata said, announcing benefits for the sector such as new pension and insurance schemes and a disability allowance.

The state government has already barred its employees from taking leave on February 28 and threatened absentees with a break in service.

By battling the general strike, Mamata, who has not yet succeeded in attracting big-ticket investments, wants to send out a message that she stands for development while the Left is engaged in disruptive politics. Also, the strike comes a little over a week after the CPM appeared to have tapped into brewing popular discontent to make its Brigade rally a success.

Writers’ Buildings old-timers could not recall any former chief minister ever having personally issued a public appeal against any bandh called by the Opposition.

When the Congress or Trinamul called a bandh during Left rule, the CPM called for fighting it politically while the administration merely paid lip service to its responsibility to foil shutdowns. “During Left rule, orders were issued for staff to attend office on a bandh day but the option of taking leave was always there. Warnings were issued about cutting salaries but no action was ever taken,” a senior government employee said.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had angered his comrades by opposing bandhs at a meeting with industry. But when it came to taking action, he could do little to persuade his party against calling bandhs and hitting the streets to make them a success. Recently, Bhattacharjee was quoted as telling his party he would never again make the mistake of calling bandhs a disease.

Today, asked to comment on Mamata’s appeal, leader of the Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra said: “I saw her on TV. She was luring the unorganised sector with sops and appealing to them not to participate in the strike. This is unheard-of.... It’s an age-old carrot-and-stick policy reminiscent of the colonial days.”

Industry reacted with enthusiasm to Mamata’s move. “The bandh culture and the loss of man hours is damaging the economy. I am happy she has taken a firm stand. We are fully with her,” Bengal Chamber of Commerce director-general P. Roy said.

Deepak Jalan, senior vice-president, MCC Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said: “We are with the chief minister on her current stand. We do not favour any kind of bandh or strike by any party on any sort of issue.”