Kolkata: Government and commercial establishments were functioning normally in most parts of West Bengal as a Congress sponsored 12 hour shutdown on Tuesday against the “anarchy and lawlessness” in the state evoked partial response.
While the shutdown was largely effective in Congress strongholds of Murshidabad and Malda districts, it evoked little response in others parts of the state including the state capital Kolkata.
Train movement particularly the suburban train services on the Sealdah section was disrupted with Congress activists resorting to demonstrations on the tracks.
“Train services were temporarily disrupted on the Sealdah section due to demonstrations. But now the services are running normal. No such disruptions, so far has been reported on the Howrah route,” an Eastern Railway spokesperson said.
In the city, public transport system including the buses and the metro train services operated normally.
Many Congress activists have been arrested across the state for attempting to forcibly enforce the shutdown called by the party against the “growing anarchy and lawlessness”, including the lynching of a college student in Sabang of West Midnapore district.
There were also reports of vandalism in some parts of the state by the shutdown enforcers.
While a bus was attacked and its wind shields broken in Howrah, the block development officer in Sabang alleged Congress activists ransacked his office and assaulted him.
In Murshidabad and Malda, educational institutions and commercial establishments remained shut although government offices were open.
While the Congress termed the shutdown successful, the ruling Trinamool has ridiculed it, dubbing the call “completely ineffective”.
State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury accused the administration of resorting to violence to foil the shutdown after his party supporters were baton charged by the police in Baharampur of Murshidabad disyrict for allegedly preventing employees from entering the land revenue office.
“The police have not even spared women and are raining batons on us for participating in a democratic protest. If this government thinks it can deter us with violence then we are ready even to receive bullets,” said Chowdhury.
Congress legislator and former state minister Manas Bhuniya claimed the shutdown was successful.
“People have wholeheartedly supported the shutdown, markets are closed, schools and colleges are closed and the attendance in government offices is negligible. The government is forcibly operating buses and trains but they are deserted,” said Bhuniya.
But Trinamool leader and state Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee dubbed the shutdown as “completely ineffective”.
It was India’s “Grand Old Party.” The Congress Party ruled the country for 55 out of 71 years since independence. But following the party’s crushing electoral debacle for a second time, there are questions about its future as the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty at its helm is unable to counter the most powerful leader India has produced in decades: Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Contrary to expectations, India’s mammoth general election turned out to be virtually a no-contest between Modi and Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi as it became a presidential-style battle.
“It is not what went wrong with the Congress, it is more of a story of what went right for Prime Minister Modi. He stood as a tall leader, as an achiever, as somebody who understood people’s aspirations,” says political commentator Rasheed Kidwai, who has authored a biography of Rahul Gandhi’s mother, Sonia Gandhi. On the other hand, “Rahul Gandhi is temperamentally not a power wielder. He is a trustee of power.”
The sixth member of the Nehru Gandhi family to lead the party, Rahul is often seen as a “reluctant politician”, despite his spirited campaign to revive the party and challenge Modi after its rout in 2014.
Gandhi’s rallies drew crowds, but his efforts to project Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party as a threat to India’s secular traditions or to highlight issues of economic distress failed to resonate. His attempts to nail him for corruption in a deal to buy Rafale French fighter jets fell flat. His promise of a minimum wage for India’s poorest families was met with skepticism, even among the poor.
On the other hand, Modi, successfully wooed voters with his message of strident nationalism and subtle appeal to the majority Hindu community. Along with it, there was another theme: he projected himself as the humble son of a tea seller, a self made man who fought all odds to reach the top post in contrast to what he called the “entitled” Gandhi who had inherited the mantle of leadership of the Congress Party. It drew cheers from the country’s emerging middle and lower-middle classes, exhausted with dynastic politics.
The Congress Party’s tally of 52 seats in parliament was only a notch higher than the 44 seats it won in 2014 in the 545-member parliament. The party’s candidates returned empty-handed in half the Indian states and in several others the party only mustered a single digit tally.Modi’s BJP won 303 seats.
The scale of its losses not just crushed hopes the Congress Party would either lead a credible challenge to Modi or return as invigorated opposition – it once again raised questions over the leadership of the Gandhi family.
Rahul Gandhi has offered to resign, but expectedly the party that has no second rung of leadership has turned it down. “The party will fulfill its role as a strong opposition. We need Rahul Gandhi to lead us in these challenging times,” Congress Party spokesman Randeep Surjewala said after a meeting of the party’s senior leaders on the weekend.
Rahul Gandhi also lost the Amethi constituency the party had held for 50 years in Uttar Pradesh state. In another humiliating blow for the Gandhi family, his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who was appointed in a senior post to revive the party, failed to make an impact. Rahul’s mother, Sonia Gandhi, won her party’s only seat in the state.
Rahul Gandhi’s victory in another constituency in South India means he will continue to be a lawmaker. Dynastic politics is not limited to the Congress Party: lawmakers from political families are a routine feature of Indian politics. But political commentators say in an era showing a preference for strong, populist leaders, Modi was the clear victor.
“There is a new sense of nationalism sweeping across many conventional democracies. There is a yearning for a strong leader that captures the public imagination,” according to political analyst Ajoy Bose. “I don’t really see the conventional Congress Party or the conventional leadership mounting a challenge to Modi. He has completely taken the country by storm.”
Gandhi tried to give a positive message after the party’s rout. “We have a different vision of India [from Modi]”, said the head of the party that has long projected itself as a defender of India’s minorities, such as Muslims who worry about religious polarization and a rise in hate crimes since Modi came to power. “There is no need to be afraid. We will continue to work hard and we will eventually win.”
But it may be difficult to reinvent what analysts call a “fading party.” They say Modi’s BJP now occupies the dominant political space that the Congress party did for decades. “Congress is going to get reduced to, you know, like the Liberals did in Britain,” says Rasheed Kidwai. (VOA)