Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

Kolkata Korner

The Marxists' outrage over the attack on their party HQs at New Delhi is hardly justifiable. For, they do exactly the same, and much worse, to their political rivals in the states where they call the shots.

Story Of A Tree
This is, perhaps, the best illustration of how things work, or don't, in this city. A truck dashed into a tree early one Saturday morning, sending it crashing on the road that happens to be an arterial one. It remained there for the whole of Saturday, Sunday and the better part of Monday, causing huge traffic snarls not only on that road, but even the ones leading to and away from it. And guess why the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) didn't hack the large, uprooted tree into small pieces and cart them away? Because of archaic, time-consuming and opaque rules that aren't even lucid. 

It seems whenever such a thing happens, the traffic department of the Kolkata Police (whose responsibility it is to keep traffic moving on the city's streets) dashes off a letter to the KMC, with a carbon copy duly sent to the forest department (the custodian of all trees) stating that a tree has fallen and needs to be removed to clear a road/pavement/pathway. The forest department and the KMC then acknowledge receipt of the letter, after which the forest department sends a team to the spot to verify the cause of the 'accident' and the species of the tree that has fallen to put a price for the log that the KMC will pay later to the forest department. Once the portly babus complete the inspection and put in a report that's studied and vetted by their seniors, the forest department gives permission to the KMC to remove the fallen tree. 

Saturday and Sunday being holidays, none of all this cumbersome processes happened on the two days, thus inconveniencing lakhs of people. Things started moving only on Monday morning, and that too after local newspapers and TV channels lampooned the civic authorities, the traffic police and the forest department, forcing the Mayor to intervene personally. The road was ultimately cleared late Monday afternoon. And the 'do it now' Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee happily presides over this slack, inept, hidebound and downright ridiculous machinery.

Marxist Menace
The Marxists' outrage over the attack on their party HQs at New Delhi is hardly justifiable. For, they do exactly the same, and much worse, to their political rivals in the states where they call the shots. In Tripura, for instance, just after winning the Assembly polls last week, CPI(M) activists went on a rampage and attacked offices of the Congress--its main rival there--and activists of the party. 

Closer home, members of the CPI(M)'s students' wing--the notorious SFI--won't allow space even to the students' bodies affiliated to the junior partners of the Left Front in college elections. At the South Calcutta Law College, candidates from rival formations were barred from even collecting nomination forms for the college students' union elections earlier this week. Scores of SFI activists queued up before the counter distributing the forms and prevented others, including the daughter of senior RSP leader and state PWD Minister Kshiti Goswami (who has been sharply critical of the Marxists of late on quite a few issues), from getting anywhere near the counter to collect the forms within the stipulated time. The SFI rogues dispersed only after the deadline for submitting the forms expired. And with no contestants, the SFI's nominees won the 18 posts in the college's students' union uncontested. That was elections, China style. 

If these are tactics that the junior Marxists can employ in college union elections, it doesn't need much imagination to fathom what deadlier, more vicious, totally undemocratic and grossly authoritarian measures the CPI(M) deploys to hang on to power and maintain its vice-like grip on the people. A party which, thus, does not practice democracy or believe in democratic practices can hardly cry foul when it is beaten with the same stick that it uses to thrash others.

P.S. The SFI was handed a humiliating defeat at the students' union polls at Presidency College which has, along with many faculties at the Jadavpur University, been a stronghold of anti-CPI(M) forces. Graceless in defeat, the SFI is moaning now that its rival rigged the polls!

Ides Of March
Friday was the first anniversary of the beastly firing on protesting farmers at Nandigram by the Bengal police and armed CPI(M) goons. And a host of organizations ranging from the Trinamool Congress to human rights bodies took out a series of processions and rallies that choked Kolkata, putting to severe inconvenience and extreme harassment lakhs of citizens. Rallyists took over the roads and interminable traffic snarl-ups clogged Kolkata till well into the evening. Angry slogans were shouted and angrier speeches delivered. But what was achieved at the end of the day? NOTHING. It was all a show of power, albeit whatever little the opposition parties and apolitical outfits can lay claim to. 

Why is it that Kolkatans have to pay for all the acts of omission and commission committed in any other part of not only Bengal, but the country and even the world at large? Couldn't the Nandigram killings, condemnable as the incident was and filled with 'cold horror' (to borrow Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi's phrase) as we all were, have been observed in a less-intrusive manner? Seminars, silent demonstrations, exhibitions detailing the Nandigram horrors and more could have been held and would have, I'm sure, done more in focusing attention not only on the March 14 incident at Nandigram, but also on the continuing violence and repression there by CPI(M) cadres. Holding an art camp, for instance, with participation from top artists who would have turned out canvases on the Nandigram killings would have had a greater impact, I say, than a noisy and disruptive procession passing down Chowringee.

Airport Mess
Talking about Kolkata having to pay for incidents in faraway places, the recent strike by Airports Authority of India (AAI) employees at airports all across the country to protest the imminent closure of the Bangalore and Hyderabad airports left the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International airport here the worst-affected among all airports in the country. Thanks to the high level of unionization among employees here, the airport turned into a huge, stinking garbage dump in a matter of just a day. I've been told by people flying in from across the country that the airports there were hardly affected. I flew out of Guwahati and none could tell, by the look of the airport, that the AAI employees were on strike there. Only at Kolkata did air passengers find stinking toilets, messy lobbies, absence of luggage trolleys and lack of other amenities as well as belligerent, slogan-shouting and militant AAI employees taking out processions periodically. 

So why is it that Kolkata airport suffered so much? Because here, all employees are highly unionized, are militant and care little for the convenience of those (the air passengers) from whom they earn their ill-deserved salaries. What is all the more frustrating is that the AAI strike didn't achieve any purpose; the existing airports at Hyderabad and Bangalore will definitely be shut down once their swankier private counterparts are opened soon. The old has to give way to the new. It's unfortunate that the CPI(M)-affiliated CITU, which led the AAI employees' protest, has never been able to face this reality.

Stinking Toilets
There has been a lot of hullabaloo in the Kolkata press over the AAI employees strike resulting in dirty toilets at the airport here. Air travelers will be bemused over this. Because, even during normal times, the toilets at Kolkata airport are dirty and stinking. Fact is, they're hardly ever cleaned and any cleaning that happens is, at best, perfunctory. Wash basins and porcelain tiles on the walls bear betel leaf stains while cisterns in the loos would put even the ones at free public toilets to shame. Faucets leak and the floors are quite often slippery and unclean. The toilets at the Kolkata airport could easily pass off for ones at a sarkari office. So why blame the AAI employees' strike for dirty washrooms at the airport getting dirtier? What is always filthy merely got filthier.

Irresponsible Citizens
The strike also served to exposed the ugly side of Kolkata's citizenry. Even after knowing fully well that the AAI employees were on strike and wouldn't clean the floors or empty the trash cans, air passengers threw paper cups, plates and empty packets of chips and other eatables on the floor. I saw half-eaten sandwiches strewn around at the departure lounge and nearly slipped on some coffee that a middle-aged Bengali woman had carelessly spilt on the floor. I saw a young man with just a small briefcase rudely shoving away and grabbing a luggage trolley from an elderly woman who had three bags with her. Another young couple kept watching their toddler son relieve himself on the floor. A few pan-masala chewing folks spat into overflowing trash cans. It is said that people's characters are revealed at times of crisis. The character of Kolkata's untidy citizens, whose lack of civic sense is well known, was on full display at the airport during the two days the AAI employees were on strike. Hadn't it been for us, our airport would have been far cleaner that it was during those two days.