An all-India strike called by a joint forum of central trade unions on March 28 and 29, and backed by banking unions, did not have as much impact as expected in West Bengal as the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government stuck to its stand of not backing strikes and thwarting attempts to impose one.
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To prevent the bandh from succeeding, the Mamata Banerjee-led government on March 26 issued an order announcing that all state government offices would remain open and employees would have to report for duty during the days of the strike. The order added that the leaves would be treated as “dies non (not counted)” and “no salary will be admissible”.
This position of the ruling party, however, marks a major shift from the time when it was in the Opposition and often backed calls for bandhs to have an impact in Bengal politics. . Its support for bandhs at the time was in line with the Left Front’s policy of calling strikes to protest against the Centre. Under the Left, bandhs had become a defining image of the state.
But with the courts often criticising the disruptions caused by strikes, the TMC took an anti-strike position after coming to power, thus depriving the Opposition of a potent weapon with which to corner the government.
When farmers protesting against the BJP-led Centre called an all-India strike last year, Banerjee said although her party does not support bandhs it was in solidarity with the protesters’ demands for the withdrawal of three laws.
Explaining the ruling party’s position on bandhs, TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh told The Indian Express, “The TMC government has a clear-cut policy of not supporting a bandh. The government does not want to lose man-days by supporting a bandh. There may have been occasions when we had supported the cause of a bandh (the farmers’ strike) but we never wanted to observe it. People in general also do want to see strikes anymore. Therefore it is a clear policy of the state government not to observe a strike.”
BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar accused the TMC of changing its stance on bandhs whenever it suits the party.
“The party is run by only one person and everything is decided by the whims and fancies of that person. If the TMC feels that bandh should not be observed, then it won’t be observed. If they feel that they should support a strike, then they will change their policies immediately. The party has no proper policies and whatever it has is always subject to change,” Majumdar said, before adding sarcastically, “The only exception is attacks on Opposition workers and the reign of terror. That is a constant in the TMC’s politics.”
CPI(M) state secretary Mohammed Salim too hit out at the ruling party over its “double standards”.
“Despite resorting to bandh politics every now and then when the Left was in power, the TMC has now become a saint. It does not allow anyone to observe a bandh. The administration is used to throttling the democratic rights of political parties. We strongly condemn this double standard nature of the TMC.”