Saturday, July 18, 2009

THE BANDH - Vandalism and political fiasco
(Editorial, SNS, 19 July 2009)

FRIDAY’S Congress bandh in West Bengal was an exemplar in vandalism with malice aforethought and also as much an overwhelming political fiasco. For a party that emerged from the shadows after a decade, the prelude was as destructive as it was farcical. The first announcement had assured that the decision on a bandh would be finalised on Saturday, 18 July. The next move was a bandh in 13 districts on Friday. Yet another afterthought extended that disruption to the entire state. We are tempted to iterate that the kind of vandalism Kolkata and the districts suffered on Thursday and Friday was grotesquely out of proportion to the violent provocation in Burdwan. The facts are barely stated. A team of nine Congress MLAs, out on a relief mission in Mangalkote, was chased out by the CPI-M cadres; the MLA from Katwa suffered grievous injury; the administration was inactive until the Chief Minister intervened. Of course, the Congress has a genuine grouse. But for two consecutive days, it reacted with far greater indignation than it was entitled to. It was almost as if the Sain Bari massacre had been re-enacted nearly 40 years later.

It is just as well that Mamata Banerjee has seen through the game. Was the Congress trying to upstage its splinter party, now on the ascendant both in the state as well as in the national government? The Trinamul chief has made it clear that her party had only lent “moral support” to the Congress bandh... and not the rampage that paralysed the city and the state. Is there a rift? For, Miss Banerjee has taken strong exception to Manas Bhuniya’s one-on-one with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and without her knowledge. She has been irked no less by the lack of floor coordination in the assembly over the Mangalkote incident. One may even wonder whether the state Congress president, Pranab Mukherjee ~ given his personal chemistry with the Chief Minister ~ was privy to the violent Congress agitprop and the vandalised enforcement of the bandh that has quite totally stunned civil society.

To make confusion worse confounded, the CPI-M front organisation, Citu, virtually played into the Congress hands by calling a transport strike, coinciding with the bandh. That the Congress and the CPI-M emerged as partners together in enforcing the stoppage would have seemed ludicrous were it not for the profound implications.

The government for its part managed to tie itself up in knots. The Chief Secretary gave the assurance of normal transport; on the morning of the bandh the Additional Chief Secretary (transport) called on him to convey the minister’s directive ~ no public transport. Like its front unit, the administration played into the hands of the bandh sponsors. All in all, the parties and the government have made an exhibition of themselves.

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