Normal life was partially affected in West Bengal on Thursday due to a nationwide trade union strike -- the first since the lockdown -- during which sporadic clashes were reported in several parts of the state. Around 449 people were arrested in the state, 140 of them in Kolkata, while trying to enforce the strike, which began at 6 am, police said.
The CPI(M) claimed that the 24-hour bandh called by a joint committee of the central trade unions in protest against the Centre's economic policies turned out to be a "complete success in West Bengal". The strike, which was also supported by the Congress, was more of a litmus test for both the parties, which seem to be testing waters ahead of the assembly polls in the state.
Bandh supporters, mostly activists of CPI(M)- affiliated outfits such as CITU and DYFI, brought out rallies in Jadavpur, Garia, Kamalgazi and Dumdum areas, besides other parts of the state, disrupting vehicular movement and asking shopkeepers to pull down shutters, an official said. They picketed outside Howrah railway station, threatening vehicle operators to stop services, but a large police contingent, deployed in the area, ensured vehicles plied normally, he said.
Left activists blocked roads in Central Avenue, Hastings, Shyambazar and Moulali areas of Kolkata, while Congress workers tried to shut down shops in Burrabazar area, triggering tension, he said. Left Front Chairman Biman Bose led the protesters, as they restricted traffic movement at Mallickbazar Crossing.
He alleged that the TMC government was trying to muzzle a "spontaneous people's movement" with brute force. SFI activists blocked a portion of the road near Jadavpur 8B bus terminus and played football and table tennis.
Protesters clashed with the police at Barasat and Belgharia in North 24 Parganas, Paschim Barddhaman's Durgapur, Coochbehar's Mathabhanga, Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri and Midnapore town in Paschim Medinipur district, the official said. Suburban trains in the Sealdah division and Howrah- Kharagpur section came to a halt as agitators sat on railway tracks at several stations, a railway spokesperson said.
Kolkata Metro services, however, were not affected. Flight, too, took off from the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport as per schedule, an official said.
Banking services were partially affected in parts of the state as many branches and ATMs remained closed. Operations at the Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port's Kolkata Dock System faced a temporary setback, as 70 per cent of permanent employees and 50 per cent of contractual workers did not join work in the city, officials said, adding that the Haldia dock functioned normally.
The strike had an adverse impact on the state's jute industry, with many mills remaining closed and a handful operating at 30-50 per cent capacity, sources at the Indian Jute Mills Association said. Several tea gardens in the Dooars region in North Bengal did not function during the day, but the strike had little effect on the estates in Darjeeling Hills, a senior trade union leader said.
The bandh also affected coal production in the mines of the Eastern Coalfields Ltd in the western part of the state, sources said. The TMC did not support the strike but said it backed the issues flagged by the Left and the Congress.
"We are opposed to any bandh as we don't believe in inconveniencing people. But we support the reason for which it has been called," Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said. CPI (M) politburo member Mohammed Salim said that the strike was a "success" in Bengal.
Attempts by the state administration to scuttle the agitation prove the theory of "tacit understanding" between the TMC and the BJP, he alleged. "The BJP, through its protest at Majerhat, and the CM, through her press conference, tried to divert attention from the success of the strike," he stated.
Senior Congress leader and MP Pradip Bhattacharya also echoed Salim and said "had the TMC been serious about supporting the reason for the bandh, its members would have joined the agitation. Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh claimed that the way the TMC administration gave a free run to the agitators, it proves a "grand alliance of the TMC, CPI(M) and Congress" is in the offing.
"We have seen how the CPI(M) and Congress were allowed to have a free run. This proves a grand alliance is in the offing. We have defeated grand alliance in Bihar, and we will defeat it in Bengal also," Ghosh said.