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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 14.01.01
The point that bandhs are no longer a political weapon and that they damage work culture does not bear repetition. It has been made with force in these columns and elsewhere ad nauseum. But in West Bengal the articulation of such a view point has little or no effect. The absence of impact does not relate to political parties alone but to a wide spectrum of Bengali society as well. Political parties, be it the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and other left formations or the Trinamool Congress or the Congress, are all caught in a trap which is entirely of their own making. Their ideological blinkers and their doctrinaire myopia have combined to make them irresponsible, and have rendered them incapable of seeing anything outside their narrow sectarian ends. Yet what cannot be denied is that political parties do not exist in a social vacuum. They too can be forced to change their attitudes, programmes and even their modes of protest under pressure from the public. For this to happen, there has to be a growing and open expression of disapproval of the way political parties organize their agitation and their protests. Such an expression of public disapproval has not happened in the case of bandhs. Thus bandhs continue to be called and continue to succeed whenever called. It would not be an exaggeration to conclude that in West Bengal there is a societal acceptance of bandhs. Hence, political parties, irrespective of the colours on their flags, continue and will continue to call bandhs. Both the chief justice of the Calcutta high court, Mr A.K. Mathur and the United States ambassador, Mr Richard Celeste, in their different ways have drawn attention to this dimension. Their statements might raise hackles among the political classes but observers of West Bengal's social life and its changing mores cannot dismiss the comments. The wide acceptance of bandhs in West Bengal is related to the Bengalis' love for holidays. No other state has as many listed holidays as West Bengal. Holidays run the gamut of all religious festivals. To this are added some "secular" days which are special to West Bengal: the birthday of Subhas Chandra Bose, May Day and Bengali New Year. It will be noted that bandhs are invariably called either on a Friday or a Monday or the day before a holiday so that the people can enjoy a number of days without going to work. In no other state does work, even in banks and the stock exchange, come to a complete standstill for four days on the trot as it does in West Bengal over Durga Puja. There has been no campaign ever to tell the people that so many holidays are unwarranted and harmful. This only strengthens the common impression that the people of West Bengal loathe the idea of work. This impression has a long history and concerns the high caste elements of the population since the lower castes, the peasants and workers, have to labour for sheer survival. The inherent indolence grows out of the dependence that most upper caste families had on rent incomes from land. Parasitic and absentee landlordism provided the economic basis of the Bengali middle class and its achievements. The complete erosion of that basis has not been replaced by a positive attitude towards work or by any efforts to overcome the indolence bred by nearly two hundred years of drone-like existence. This has been overlaid with irresponsible trade unionism promoted by various political parties especially by the CPI(M). This irresponsibility nurtured the idea that in West Bengal the work force could collect its wages without doing a stroke of work. Strikes, go slows, gheraos and bandhs fitted easily into this political and cultural ambience. West Bengal has gone through innumerable political upheavals but these have not altered the dereliction of duty that informs all work-related things in the state. The transformation of this aspect of life cannot be left to political parties. It is a challenge facing Bengali society. The people have to decide what they think is more important for them: holidays, bandhs and things like changing names of streets and cities or work, productivity and profit.    
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