Kolkata woke up to almost empty government buses plying on empty streets on Thursday, a day when a united Opposition called a bandh- the first in 25 months.
Important junctions that usually spring to life by 8 AM on weekdays such as Esplanade, Shyambazar, Park Circus, Sealdah and Howrah Station wore a deserted look.
Those arriving from other states at Howrah and Sealdah stations were terribly inconvenienced as they could not find vehicles to reach their destinations in the city.
Private vehicles were few and far between. Large contingents of policemen were posted at all crossings to avoid showdowns.
Government buses kept plying from early hours and in larger numbers to compensate for possible absence of private buses. But very few passengers travelled in them.
The government made ample arrangements to facilitate public life, but early morning scenes in the city suggested that citizens had given in to the lure of a long weekend. Friday being May Day is a holiday in West Bengal followed by the weekend.
On Wednesday evening, even police vans hastily fitted with microphones went around in neighbourhoods of the city assuring citizens that all services would run normally on Thursday.
The bandh was called by the Left, BJP and supported by Congress to protest against the violence unleashed by the ruling party in the civic polls. A transport strike was also called by the trade union arms of these parties.
The last time Kolkata observed a bandh was on February 21/22, 2013 when 11 central trade unions called protested the policies of the UPA government.
Passenger numbers were substantially thin in the suburban railways and metro system too.
From other districts, there were a few reports of trains being obstructed by bandh supporters.
The state government warned their employees to turn up for work or suffer deduction in salary.
Fresh from the violence in the civic polls, the bandh has become another prestige fight with the Opposition trying to prove that the people are appalled with the ruling party’s muscle flexing and did not actually vote for them as thumpingly as the results indicated. The Trinamool is bent on proving them wrong.
The Left Front’s desperation over the bandh became evident when senior CPI(M) leaders ruled out any change in their programme despite it clashing with an exam of the graduation third year students, as well as an IPL match between Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens.
Left leaders went to the extent of requesting examinees to reach exam venues by Wednesday night itself.
“The chief minister is feeling threatened, and that’s why she is so desperate. I wonder why the university exams have not been postponed. The chief minister should not have entered into an ego battle over the future of the students,” Leader of the Opposition and CPI(M) state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra said on Wednesday.
Taking the Opposition resolve head on, the state government and the ruling party have made it clear that they are determined to foil the united effort of the Opposition. Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee has asked party workers to stay on the roads to ensure no one imposes the bandh.
“Our workers would be there on the streets to thwart the bandh but we have asked them not to respond to provocations,” Banerjee said on Wednesday.
(All pictures by Ravik Bhattacharya/ HT Photo)