Large parts of India where the Congress is not in power were hit today by a strike or bandh against the government's recent decisions to increase diesel prices, and allow Foreign Direct Investment or FDI in multi-brand retail. Industry association CII says the strike causes losses of Rs. 12,500 crore because of the disruption in production and trade. Mumbai and Delhi remained largely unaffected; Kolkata, Patna and Bangalore were completely shut down.
The strike was backed by trade unions and shopkeepers and led in many cities by party workers of the Left, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party. Mamata Banerjee, who has quit the ruling UPA coalition over the new reforms, slammed the strike in West Bengal, largely because it was called by her political rival, the Left. She said that she would take her protest to Delhi- her six ministers are scheduled to resign from the government tomorrow, and she says she will meet the President of the country to formally withdraw her support to the UPA, after which the government will be in a minority.
To remain in power, the UPA needs Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose external support props up the government at the centre. Today, he was at the heart of the protests against the UPA in Delhi. He joined a demonstration called by the Left, and then marched to a police station near parliament to court arrest. Mulayam Singh said that he is determined not to let the opposition BJP gain from the current political crisis- we are against communal forces, he said, but he also warned the government that unless it withdraws its reforms, he will mobilize larger protests.
The BJP and its ally, Sharad Yadav, were quick to assert that the government's decision to open up the retail sector to foreign super-chains has provided a common cause to the Left, the right and Mulayam Singh Yadav. He was quick to distance himself from that claim. "I am supporting the government to stop communal forces. BJP se hamara koi vaasta nahi hai
(We have no relationship with the BJP)."
He emerged from the police station surrounded by commandoes, holding hands with the CPM's Sitaram Yechury and said, "What better example of the Third Front coming together?" He meant the leaders walking beside him like AB Bardhan and D Raja of the CPI, Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party and HD Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular)."
Here's how the strike affected different citiesDelhi:
The national capital saw a mixed response to the bandh. Shops in markets like Chandni Chowk in old Delhi were closed. But government-run schools, colleges, offices and banks and Delhi Metro functioned normally. BJP president Nitin Gadkari led the party's protests in the capital.Uttar Pradesh:
Protestors stopped trains in Mathura, Agra, Varanasi, Allahabad and Lucknow while BJP workers and traders blocked the Agra-Gwalior Highway by burning tyres. Major markets remained closed at a number of places in UP, including the state capital.Raising slogans against FDI in retail, a group of workers held a demonstration outside the Walmart store at Sultanpur road in Lucknow.Kolkata:
The Left 's call for a 12-hour bandh in West Bengal virtually shut down the state's capital. Flights were not affected, but some trains were delayed after they were blocked by protestors. Yesterday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had asked the Left not to go ahead with the strike, arguing that it will financially hurt a state that's already bankrupt. "I can tell you that the state loses Rs. 1737 crore on a bandh day," she said, pointing out that her party decided three years ago not to call or support any strikes. BJP and workers from her Trinamool party clashed in Howrah. In Baguighati near the Kolkata airport, effigies of government leaders were burnt by BJP workers. 15 protesters have been arrested.
BJP leaders Ravishankar Prasad, who was seen cycling in a rally, and CP Thakur were detained in Patna for protesting against the government. Several other opposition leaders were detained. Activists from the BJP and its allies gathered at railway stations across Bihar and forcibly stopped train services, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. All private schools in the state were closed because of the strike, but government schools and offices remained open. About 5000 protesters from 26 districts were taken into preventive custody across the state. Mumbai:
Mumbai and the rest of the state is not seeing a large impact of the bandh because of Ganesh Chaturthi festivities. Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the Shiv Sena and even the BJP, which has called the bandh, have said that they will not enforce the nationwide strike in the state because of the ongoing festival. While the MNS supports FDI in retail, the BJP and Shiv Sena are opposed to it. So public transport, malls, super markets all other services are likely to function normally. Schools and colleges are also open.
In BJP-ruled Bangalore, the bandh was more or less complete. Many of the city's famous IT companies remained closed. There was hardly any public transport available - passengers arriving at the city's three railway stations found it hard to enter the city with virtually no buses, autos or taxis available. Shops, cinemas and schools were not open.Hyderabad:
In the capital of Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh, the bandh had little impact. Buses ran as scheduled and schools stayed open. Protesters, however, did take out motorcycle processions and staged blockades near Secretariat and Assembly complexes. Some protesters even cooked food on roads to protest LPG-cap decision.Chennai:
The opposition DMK is a member of the UPA, but was supporting the strike today. However, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and her AIADMK were not. Therefore, most essential services remained unaffected. Left parties and the BJP staged protest on railway tracks.(With inputs from agencies)