New Delhi/Mumbai: Business was hit, roads deserted and train traffic disrupted
Thursday as large parts of India shut down to protest the hike in
petrol prices, leaving the Manmohan Singh-led government battling
a surge of unpopularity on a day that economic growth slumped to
its lowest in nine years.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government
found itself isolated as the left and the right opposition called
for a 12-hour nationwide strike against the May 23 hike of Rs.7
plus in petrol prices.
Many thousands were stranded at rail stations, airports and bus
terminals and many others couldn't get to work as the strike
called by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its constituents in
the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as well as the Left
parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and
others took effect.
The shutdown saw street protests and sporadic violence in most
states, from Jammu and Kashmir to Karnataka and from Tripura to
Maharashtra. Roads and train tracks were blockaded and some buses
The shutdown was complete in some states where the governments
backed the call against inflation and increasing prices. Like in
Uttar Pradesh, where the ruling SP was amongst those who called
Ditto in Bihar, where the JD-U is in power, Odisha, with a BJD
government in place, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, ruled by the
BJP, and Tripura, where the Left Front endorsed the strike.
The situation was similar in other states ruled by the opposition,
be it Karnataka or Himachal Pradesh, where Chief Minister P.K.
Dhumal walked to office in a mark of protest.
The shutdown call struck a chord even in Congress-ruled states.
In Andhra Pradesh, the shutdown was partial in the capital
Hyderabad but near total in the districts with shops, petrol
bunks, businesses and educational institutions closed.
The Congress government waged a lone battle as the Telugu Desam
Party (TDP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and YSR Congress
Party supported the BJP and the Left.
In Congress-ruled Assam too, the response was total.
India's financial capital Mumbai was paralysed as were many parts
of Maharashtra. Despite stringent security taken by the
Congress-led government, there were four incidents of government
buses being stoned.
The shutdown was supported by anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare
and even Mumbai's famed 'dabbawallas', who did not provide their
regular tiffin delivery services.
In states like Meghalaya, the response was muted and Kerala
reported business as usual.
Though the day passed off relatively peacefully, opposition
leaders quoted arrest in several places.
In Delhi, Marxist leaders Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury and D.
Raja of the Communist Party of India (CPI) were detained.
"This (arrest) is part of the big struggle against petrol price
rise... We will protest till there is complete rollback," added
CPI-M's Brinda Karat.
Added Asom Gana Parishad's Apurba Mumar Bhattacharjyya in Guwahati:
"The support of the common people is the expression of anger and
frustration of those hit by the price rise of essential
As if in echo, autorickhsaw driver Ranbir said in Delhi that
politicians were not alone in this cause.
Hitting out at the government for prices that made his day-to-day
living more precarious, he said: "There is genuine anger among the
common people. I have always voted for the Congress. In the next
election, I shall not vote for the Congress."
It was a tough day for the government. As the strike continued, it
was announced that economic growth had slumped to 5.3 percent in
January-March quarter, the slowest in nine years. For the 2011-12
financial year, GDP growth slipped to just 6.5 percent.
Blaming the opposition parties, Congress spokesperson Renuka
Chowdhury said such shutdowns were "outdated".
"The common man, including fruit sellers, flower sellers... they
have suffered loss in sales. It would have been better if the
opposition had made suggestions on how to deal with the
challenge," she said.
(Minu Jain can be contacted at email@example.com)