Strike without fangs

The two-day all India bandh starting tomorrow called by 10 central trade unions led by CITU, pressing for a 12-point charter of demands from the Centre might have some impact on public life in states like West Bengal and Kerala where the left has a good presence but it once again raises questions about the efficacy of strikes and hartals to get grievances redressed.  In West Bengal while the CPM has been running a sustained campaign to make the bandh a success the state government is determined to foil the strike call.   They have reasons to do it. According to one report in 2017 India lost 11.73 lakh man days because of strikes resulting to a loss of Rs 550 crore. Of all the states Tamil Nadu topped the list losing 5.74 lakh man days followed by Kerala and Gujarat. The same year though the number of man days lost by West Bengal was 4,683, in terms of production loss it was the second after Gujarat. While Gujarat lost   Rs 286 crore that year, West Bengal suffered a loss of Rs 181 crore. This despite persistent efforts of chief minister Mamata Banerjee for making bandhs and strikes things of the past, something that has lost its teeth because of its overuse. Mamata, who was an ardent votary of strikes before she came to power went hammer and tongs against it after her victory in 2011 and her government took all steps that normal life remained unaffected. In fact after she came to power in 2011 the state witnessed the spectacle of government employees staying back at their work places on the eve of bandhs to ensure their presence in office the next day.  The TMC government also passed a legislation empowering the administration to demand compensation from political parties for vandalisation or loss of public property. There were dissenting voices in the left itself over using bandhs as a weapon and the most notable among such left leaders was former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The former chief minister who batted for fast industrialization of the state and initiated several industrial projects, principal among them was the small car factory at Singur, was against all bandhs and strikes. On one occasion Bhattacharjee, at a public function said he was member of one political party which supported bandh while he did not. There were other leaders too in the left opposed to bandh but they had all been marginalized.

Monday, 7 January, 2019