Protests called by the Congress and CPM against fuel price hike met with a lukewarm response in the state on Monday, with commercial and educational establishments staying open and traffic remaining unaffected.
While the Congress had called for a Bharat Bandh against the rising fuel prices, the CPM had called for a separate nationwide stir on the same issue.
The ruling Trinamool Congress opposed the nationwide shutdown, but supported the cause behind it by taking out a protest rally in Kolkata.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said a bandh or strike is not the solution to any problem. She also said Congress leader Ahmed Patel had called her after declaring the strike to seek her support.
“He had called me asking me to support the bandh. I told him that we cannot observe the strike but we are supporting the issue. I also told him that we will hold a protest rally today to hold onto Opposition unity. We feel that bandh is not a solution. We are against strikes but we do not support the economic mismanagement which is prevailing in the country,” she told reporters at state secretariat.
“Here, the strike had no effect as we did not support it. We support the issue, but on principle, we do not support a strike. We do not want to lose more money as we are repaying debt worth Rs 48,000 crore (left by erstwhile Left Front government). We don’t want to see another disaster as we are anyway witnessing an economic disaster in the country. We feel bandh should be seen as a last resort,” Mamata said.
The rally was taken out from Moulali crossing to Esplanade and was attended by senior TMC leaders. Trinamool Youth Congress president and MP Abhishek Banerjee slammed the BJP for its ‘anti-people’ policies.
“Although we don’t support strikes, we were the first political party to hit the streets. We had held rallies before and staged a sit-in in Kolkata. We want people to make a change in 2019. If BJP leaders come to your house seeking your votes, then you must ask them to pay you money to buy petrol and diesel…,” he said.
He announced that if needed, the TMC will stage a protest in Delhi on the issue.
“The BJP must be dethroned in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. People will not allow the Modi government to retain power after suffering enormously in everyday life. If required then we will hold agitation in Delhi,” he said.
Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee said, “People here have witnessed several strikes during the 34 years of Left rule, which left a debt of Rs 2 lakh crore. Another strike means another loss of working day. So we decided to protest against this issue by not calling a strike, but by holding a protest rally. We are the only party which has remained the most vocal against the BJP on this issue.”
There were isolated incidents in which supporters of the strike tried to put up road blockades. In Howrah and Kolkata, Congress supporters clashed with police. According to Kolkata Police, 99 persons were arrested in Kolkata, of which 6 men and 6 women are from SUCI, rest are Congress (77 men and 10 women). All were later released on bail, sources said.
Sources said attendance at state secretariat Nabanna was over 95 per cent and overall attendance in state government offices was 97 per cent.
Eastern Railway, South-Eastern Railway and Kolkata Metro services were mostly normal. Left Front supporters put up a rail blockade in Hooghly’s Serampore, Kolkata’s Jadavpur station and Sealdah division’s Lakshmikantapur lines for an hour. Protesters at Jadavpur station soon bowed to commuters and lifted the blockade.
‘Mamata helping BJP’
Left Front and Congress leaders accused the state government for foiling their protests and lending a helping hand to the BJP.
Left Front Chairman Biman Bose said, “The TMC took several steps to foil our protest strike against the Centre’s policies. The government deployed extra police personnel on the streets and put pressure on government, semi-government employees to come to work, and asked schools and colleges to remain open. We know that Trinamool fails to maintain distance from BJP and that’s why taking such measures.”
State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury said, “Mamata Banerjee has sent her party MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy to attend the Congress agitation in Delhi and here she has asked her party goons and state police to foil our bandh. She is playing the role of a saint in Delhi and of a devil in Bengal. By opposing the bandh today, Banerjee and her party are strengthening the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
‘She is hand-in-glove with Cong, Left’
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh, however, claimed TMC supported the bandh by taking out a rally on the same day.
“On one hand they are saying they oppose bandhs and on the other they are taking out a rally on the same issue today. If they do not support the bandh, then why did they hold the rally today? This is a clear indication that TMC is hand-in-glove with Congress and Left Front,” Ghosh said.