Normal life came to a complete halt in Left-ruled Kerala while it was partially affected in West Bengal, Tripura, Tamil Nadu and Odisha due to the 24-hour nationwide strike called by various trade unions in protest against the Centre’s economic policies and contentious farm laws. While intermittent clashes between Left activists and police were reported in several parts of Bengal, other states saw road blockades, leading to disruption of vehicular movement.
The bandh, called by 10 central trade unions, except the BJP-aligned Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, was near total in Kerala, with government offices, business establishments and banks remaining shut. The streets were also deserted as private buses, auto rickshaws and taxis did not ply.
In state capital Thiruvananthapuram, where trade unions like CITU and INTUC wield considerable influence, the bandh saw shops and businesses remaining closed and police vehicles ferried people to hospitals from railway stations and bus stands. In financial hub Kochi, metro services witnessed no interruptions even though the number of passengers dropped significantly.
While state-owned KSRTC buses kept away from roads for the public, some of them were seen ferrying Sabarimala pilgrims, who were exempted from the strike. However, in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, the trade unions did not hold mass rallies but organised protest gatherings and human chains across the state.
The Kerala Vyparai Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi, the largest body of traders in the state, has left upon the units to decide for themselves if they want to down shutters taking into account the safety factors.
Besides the trade unions, some bank associations took part in the strike. While State Bank of India and private sector banks were functional across India, operations in public sector banks where participating unions have a strong hold were impacted.
In West Bengal, activists of CPI(M)-affiliated outfits like CITU and DYFI hit the streets in Jadavpur, Garia, Kamalgazi, Lake Town and Dumdum areas in Kolkata and forced shopkeepers to pull down shutters. A large police contingent was deployed in and around the city to oversee smooth flow of traffic and avoid any flare ups.
While the ruling Trinamool Congress government did not support the strike, they said it backed the economic issues on which the Left and Congress were protesting.
A group of activists also picketed outside Howrah railway station, one of the major entry points into Kolkata, asking taxi operators to stop services. Protesters clashed with the police in Barasat in North 24 Parganas district and resorted to burning tyres and breaking the windscreen of buses in Coochbehar and Jhargram districts, PTI reported.
In a bid to enforce the bandh, several agitators squatted on railway tracks, throwing suburban train services in the Sealdah division out of gear, an Eastern Railway spokesperson said. TV channels showed CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty and a group of protesters blocking railway tracks at Jadavpur station in south Kolkata.
“Banana leaves were thrown on overhead wires at Mathurapur and Hotor railway stations in Sealdah south
section, thus affecting train movement,” PTI quoted an Eastern Railway spokesperson as saying.
Metro train services were not disrupted even though police thwarted a bid by a group of Forward Bloc supporters to enter the Central metro station on the North-South line to prevent commuters from boarding the trains.
In neighbouring Odisha, trade union activists staged road blockade in state capital Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Sambalpur, Berhampur, Bhadrak, Balasore, Khurda, Rayagada and Paradip even though no untoward incidents were reported from any part of the state. Holding placards and banners demanding immediate repeal of “anti-farmer” and “anti-worker” laws and measures and privatisation of public sector units, protesters took out rallies in different areas of the state.
In Tamil Nadu, about 50,000 trade union members staged demonstrations, holding rallies in all districts barring 13, including Chennai, which faced the wrath of cyclone Nivar. “Our strike is against the anti-labour government policies and not against the people,” trade union leaders told PTI. The Forum for IT Employees-Tamil Nadu unit also extended their support to the strike call. Factories of major companies including MRF and Ashok Leyland, located on the outskirts of the city, remained closed.
Most shops and markets were closed and movement of vehicles was skeletal in Tripura — a former Left bastion. Government offices and banks were open. However, opposition CPI(M) and CPI claimed sporadic violence took place in different districts and accused the ruling BJP of “hooliganism”. Claiming that their strike was a “total success”, the party leaders claimed BJP cadres attacked CITU state headquarters and a CPI office out of frustration.
“None of our supporters did picketing on the streets today as per our policy. Common people have wholeheartedly supported our agitation and made the bandh a total success. However, some BJP supporters have attacked our CITU headquarters at Agartala, smashed furniture in it and hurled abuses, pelted stones. We condemn this cowardly attack,” state CITU president and former transport minister Manik Dey told reporters.
CPI leader Bikramjit Sengupta said their party office Junu Das Smriti Bhawan at Agartala was attacked too. There were also reports of clashes at Belonia of South Tripura and Unakoti district. A duty officer from the Tripura Police headquarters said six persons were detained at Unakoti
Reacting to the allegations, BJP spokesperson Nabendu Bhattacharya said none of his party workers were involved in violence or coercion during the strike hours. Bhattacharya said the strike had miserably failed and several CPI(M) leaders, including Agartala Municipal Corporation (AMC) Mayor Dr Prafullajit Sinha, were seen busy in day to day activities like buying products from the market during bandh.
“People have rejected this strike. They have staged drama of attack on their party offices themselves and are blaming BJP to hide their failure,” he said.
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