A bandh is a total stoppage of work involving all the strata’s of the society including all the unions and institutions. This unique phenomenon is observed perhaps only in the city of Kolkata. The bandh culture reached its zenith during the Leftist Government rule in West Bengal during the late seventies, eighties and nineties. When the Leftist Government called a bandh, they actually organized it. On the day before the bandh, CPI (M) enforcers and musclemen toured every pocket of the city on motorcycles and in open Jeeps to ensure participation from all quarters of the society.
Even paanwalas and cigarette shops were not exempted from the list. The non-cooperative and the not so cooperative shop owners and businessmen were easily convinced by silent physical threats such as placing a loaded revolver on the counter. The bandh day was the dark day when the city was paralyzed completely. Any long distance bus or lorry unfortunate enough to travel into a bandh stricken area was immediately stopped smashed and set on fire as an example to those who were against the bandh diktat.
The then opposition parties not supporting the bandh, would not take it sitting down. So, they lobbed a few homemade but lethal percussion bombs at the Leftist cadres who lost no time in returning the fire. The police became active then, firing rounds in the open air followed by tear gas shells to disperse the unruly mob. While the masses categorically stayed indoors enjoying a French leave, the city was torn apart by sporadic acts of violence and disruptive activities. Just as a paralytic patient cannot start a completely normal life immediately after the day of his revival, the city also took a couple of days to come back to a normal rhythm. But since it’s an eye for an eye, the opposition parties would soon call a counter bandh only to interrupt the rhythm of the city again. Whether the issue that prompted the bandh was suitably addressed or not, was not at all important, the success of the bandh championed at the end of the day.
With the fall of the Leftist government in West Bengal, the frequency of the bandhs has diminished considerably. However the bandh culture still exists in Kolkata and West Bengal. Now bandhs are peaceful, a few government buses ply the city but the general damage remains the same. These bandhs and strikes have caused an irreparable damage to the state of West Bengal. According to the reports of the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the total loss due to 12-hour bandhs in the recent years in the state amounts to Rs. 804.55 crore, inclusive of the NSDP (net state domestic product) figures. West Bengal has lost its credibility to the potential investors. Such srikes and disruptive activities have severely demoted the reputation of the state amongst the domestic and international business community. The eight top chambers of commerce have requested all the political parties’ to abstain from this practice of calling bandhs.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s recent Amtala convention, where she took a vow to end this bandh culture that has been plaguing the state for years, is definitely a positive step. The Leftist government has crumbled in this state but communism has not yet left the building. In response to the CM’s vow to end bandh culture in the state, the state Opposition Leader Suryakanto Mishra said, “More the Chief Minister raise a hue and cry against the general strike, more she will ensure its success”.
Any self-respecting Bengali will steal his face in shame if reminded of the once famous quote – “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”. Because after three decades under a Marxist regime, Bengal does not seem to have any thought process left. While the new government sincerely tries to resuscitate this asthmatic city, we should also rise up and rebel against such detrimental acts and erase the word bandh in the same city that once coined it.