Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In Kolkata`s footsteps

In Kolkata`s footsteps
Business Standard

You cannot keep a good idea down. Sooner or later, someone will get wind and start emulating the model. This has happened with Bangalore learning useful lessons from the dada in the field, Kolkata, on how to organise a bandh.

A bandh is no laughing matter. In these days of corporatisation, a bandh has to be announced long before the day it happens and meticulous planning has to go into making the event a success. Last year began badly for Bangalore. The sudden demise of popular hero Rajkumar early in the year gave no time for planning. The result was that the impromptu bandh called the next day was chaotic and violent. Buses were burnt and people died, reminiscent of the ‘popular’ protests in the mid-sixties that set Kolkata on the learning curve for organising bandhs.

So the next time there was a bandh, Bangalore showed all the signs of a bright student having learnt some lessons but not all. There was no violence but the timing, in the middle of the week on a Wednesday, was not right. Not that you could blame anybody. The provocation — a terrible resolution passed by the Belgaum municipality on the Karnataka-Maharashtra border dispute — could not have been anticipated and so the bandh was called in two days’ time.

But soon after that came the glorious example of Trinamool Congress and its agitation against land acquisition for industrialisation in West Bengal. The party first called a bandh but soon realised it was clashing with the festive spirit that pervades the pucca sahib city at the yearend. Naturally the leading opposition party of the state postponed the bandh, to facilitate not the yearend boozing but the celebration of Christmas. Kolkata’s Christians, small in number, must have been mighty proud of how the state’s politicians kept their conveniences in mind.

The lesson was not lost on Bangalore, as also the fact that in West Bengal most bandhs are called on a day that tags on to a holiday. So when the chance came to hold another bandh, this time to protest against the outrageous tribunal award on the sharing of Cauvery waters, it was a transformed polity that went about the task. A protest bandh was called in mid-week promptly after the verdict. But the state government requested that nothing should be done to spoil a major event that was an ornament for the state’s calendar — the Aero India air show. So the sundry bandh organisers readily agreed.

Not only was the bandh postponed by a few days, it was scheduled for a Monday, so that anyone wanting to make good use of a long weekend could do so. Aero India came and departed in a blaze of well organised glory, the long weekend arrived and the weekenders departed the city in droves. The bandh came and went, a picture of peace and careful organisation, with policemen everywhere but not a protester in sight. And the streets of Bangalore bore that classical stamp of relaxed holidaying — cricket games without number in every neighbourhood!

Bangalore has shown how good and quick a learner it is. After two bandhs in 2006, it has begun the new year bright and early by holding a bandh in February. Having learnt the art of organising a good bandh, it can now raise the pace, holding more bandhs as the years go by. Kolkata should heed the early warning. If it does not think on how to make its bandhs more spectacular, Bangalore is likely to beat it in the one sphere in which it is a market leader.


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