It has been a moral defeat for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Bharatiya Janata Party might well be enjoying a quiet chuckle. It is symptomatic too of the Left’s gradual disorientation that it has now been reduced to a mute witness to the failure of its 48-hour bandh against the BJP’s “anti-people” policies at the national level. While some will contest the raison d’etre, the Left’s plan of action reaffirms that a general strike or a bandh ~ no more than semantic quibbling ~ has reached its sell-by date. Reports from across the states suggest there was little or no disruption of normal life. In West Bengal, it was a fiasco which indubitably has been a comedown not the least because the state was once in the vanguard of the Left’s agitprop, an occasionally turbulent phase that dates back to the 1950s and sixties. Yet quite the most distressing feature was the attack on a Delhi Public School bus carrying children in Barasat, on the periphery of Kolkata. There was a recurrence of such outrage on Day II of the bandh in Rajabazar and Howrah. The incidents were reminiscent of a similar outrage perpetrated by BJP activists on a DPS Megacity bus during a bandh called by the saffronites in West Bengal last September. For the BJP as well as the CPI-M, the kids in search of learning are now a helpless target of dangerously misplaced adult fury. And almost invariably, the state government calls upon the school authorities to maintain the regular schedule, but fails to protect the children in transit.

Politically, the setback ~ or is ‘snub’ the right word ? ~ that the CPI-M has suffered is palpable enough. While the Left, the Trinamul Congress and the Congress are seemingly on the same wavelength in their robust opposition to the BJP, the leaders of the CPI-M drew a blank with their appeal to Trinamul to lend support to if not participate in the strike. For all its realpolitik and pragmatic realism, it was disingenuous to have imagined that a joint venture could be put in place by two very unlike parties. The equally disoriented Congress betrayed a sit-on-the-fence stance. While it lent support to the strike, its labour wing called the Indian National Trade Union Congress decided not to hit the streets and make it successful. It would be pertinent to recall that Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had as Chief Minister opposed bandhs and consistently so. The 48-hour time-span prolonged the embarrassment of what was once the most astute party in the political spectrum. It would be realistic on the part of Alimuddin Street to relegate the antedeluvian bandhs to the ideological footnotes. In terms of disruptive politics, the party will now have to contend with unsplendid isolation. The people as well as the other parties have emitted a critical signal, and without pressing the EVM button quite yet. This is the grim lesson to be drawn from the two-day “strike”.