Bharat Bandh: Indian opposition parties call for nationwide protests against record fuel prices
Nationwide protests against record high petrol and diesel prices shut down businesses, government offices and schools in many parts of India on Monday, and in some places protesters blocked trains and roads and vandalised vehicles.
A market seen closed during the nationwide ‘Bharat Bandh’ strike called by main opposition party Indian National Congress, in Bhopal on September 10, 2018
Gearing up for a general election less than nine months away and provincial polls expected in some states later this year, opposition parties banded together to organise their first protest action in a joint campaign to stir discontent with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
The protests turned violent in some states. Television images showed protesters breaking car and bus windows in the Patna, the state capital of the northern state of Bihar, and protesters blocked roads with burning tyres there and elsewhere, including in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
Incidents of violence have been reported from Pune and Bharuch as well. While MNS workers vandalised buses in Pune, protesters in Patna (Bihar) and Gujarat’s Bharuch district burnt tyres on roads.
Taxes on fuel drive the economy
Taxes on petrol and diesel (central and state-level tax), which account for more than a third of retail fuel prices, are one of the biggest sources of income for the government, and one of the most emotive issues for voters.
Petrol and diesel prices hit record highs of INR 80.73 (Dh4.09) and INR 72.83 (Dh3.69) per litre in Delhi on Monday. Mumbai is worst affected out of the lot with petrol and diesel being sold at INR 88.12 (Dh4.47) and INR 77.32 (Dh3.92) per litre.
Also read: UAE fuel prices for September
Past governments have usually lowered taxes whenever international oil prices shot up, but Modi’s administration has made little concession so far.
“The Modi ‘govt.’ is stealing from the people of India with excessive taxes on fuel,” the main opposition Congress party said on Twitter, posting graphics on many how prices of many commodities have risen under Modi.
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Price of petrol is around Rs. 87/litre, that of Diesel about Rs. 75/litre. Price of LPG cylinder has increased from Rs. 414/cylinder in 2014 to Rs. 754/cylinder now.#BharatBandh#MehangiPadiModiSarkar pic.twitter.com/MWozfxOksH— AIPC (@ProfCong) September 10, 2018
“Not just fuel, even day to day essentials are skyrocketing.” Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accuses its opponents of “unnecessarily politicising” high fuel prices and the weakening of the rupee currency, which it blames on external factors like the economic woes of countries such as Turkey.
Nevertheless, Modi’s popularity has come down in the past few months and his party is likely to face a tough challenge in three BJP-ruled states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh – expected to vote this year, and at the general election expected early next year.
No fire without smoke
The BJP Monday dubbed the ‘Bharat Bandh’ call given by the Congress and several other parties as an attempt to spread rumour and confusion among the masses and said people will “puncture the grand alliance balloon” floated by the main opposition party. Union minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi took on the Congress, saying it has been a “history-sheeter” on the issue of price rise whenever it was in power and is now shedding crocodile tears.
Frustrated opposition doesn’t have any strategy and leadership,what else can be expected from them? I hope God gives them sense so they can differentiate between positive & negative otherwise in future they will even lose their position as Oppn: UP CM Yogi Adityanath #BharatBandh pic.twitter.com/SJUvp52h2u— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) September 10, 2018
Accusing the opposition party of trying to create a “negative atmosphere” in the country since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014, he wondered if some “invisible hand” gave “supari” (contract) to destroy the progress India has made.
“The Congress is a cruise of corruption and whichever party joins it will sink with it,” he said, adding this is the reason several opposition parties have kept away from the ‘Bharat Bandh’ call given by the opposition party.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over in May 2014 inflation hovered around 11 per cent and he has now brought it down to around four per cent with his policies and honest work, Naqvi said, expressing the hope that it will come down further.