West Bengal was crippled on Wednesday as a 24-hour shutdown was enforced by ruling Left Front constituent Forward Bloc to protest police firing on its supporters that left six people dead. Train and bus services were affected and sporadic violence has led to over 200 arrests.
The toll in the police firing in Cooch Behar district's Dinhata town, about 800 km from Kolkata, rose to six with the death of a police officer.
"A National Volunteer Force (NVF) personnel died late on Tuesday night, taking the toll to six," said Inspector General of Police (North Bengal) RJS Nawla. "The situation in Cooch Behar is peaceful," Nawla told IANS.
The shutdown, which began at 6 am, affected train and bus services in Kolkata as the protagonists blocked roads and railway tracks in many places, in the city and the state.
"The overall law and order situation is peaceful except for few road blockades and rallies. But we arrested 70 strike supporters for indulging in violence," West Bengal Inspector General (Law and Order) Raj Kanokia told IANS.
Kolkata Police Commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakraborty said at least 157 people were arrested for causing roadblocks and clashes.
Sporadic clashes took place between Forward Bloc supporters and the police at busy crossings like Central Avenue-BB Ganguly Street, Central Avenue-Ganesh Chandra Avenue, Esplanade and Canning Street in Kolkata, Chakraborty told IANS.
Buses were plying, although fewer, but there were hardly any passengers as people were scared to venture out of their homes. The city's metro also saw few commuters.
"The rail service is badly affected. The train services in Howrah division were disrupted while in Sealdah division it was partially disrupted," said Samir Goswami, the Eastern Railway spokesperson.
"We have cancelled 17 trains from Howrah. The strike supporters also blocked railway tracks in Malda division," he said.
Netaji Shubhash Chandra Bose International (NSCBI) director VK Monga said air services remained unaffected and no flights were cancelled.
West Bengal's burgeoning IT sector was not hit by the strike.
"The attendance is almost like any other day. The sector has not been affected much since we made all arrangements to facilitate transportation of IT workers," said one official.
But the shutdown, supported by the Trinamool Congress, Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) and Congress, was total in Cooch Behar district.
A police complaint was lodged against Forward Bloc district secretary Udayan Guha for leading Tuesday's protest that turned violent, leading to the police firing.
Clashes were also reported from places like Barasat and Madhyamgram near Kolkata besides Asansol in Burdwan district and areas of Hooghly district.
Forward Bloc leader and West Bengal Cooperative Minister Rabindra Nath Ghosh staged a road blockade on the Kona Expressway in Howrah with his supporters. Legislator Niranjan Pandit was arrested for staging a demonstration.
Five activists of the Forward Bloc, the second largest constituent of the Left Front government in West Bengal, were killed and at least 25 people were injured Tuesday when the police fired at violent party protestors at Dinhata.
The Forward Bloc had organised a statewide protest, demanding minimum 100 days' employment for the jobless, cancellation of special economic zones (SEZs) policy to secure farmers' land rights, and job quotas for Muslims.
The firing on a constituent of the ruling Left is unprecedented in the over three-decade rule of the communists.