The top rung of every major political party led protests in Delhi today against the government's recent decisions to increase diesel prices, and allow Foreign Direct Investment or FDI in multi-brand retail. The nationwide strike or bandh called by the BJP and Left shut down states where the Congress is not in power. The ruling UPA coalition has been reduced to a minority since Mamata Banerjee and her 19 MPs decided to drop out because of the reforms introduced last week. (Vote: Do you support today's bandh)
Ms Banerjee slammed the Left, which had announced a 12-hour strike in West Bengal. The Chief Minister asserting the loss a bandh leads to said, "We will not tolerate bandhs. They (the Left) are striking every seven days. There are 30 strikes in a year. The Centre announces something, and they declare a strike," Ms Banerjee said.
In Delhi, BJP President Nitin Gadkari and Sharad Yadav, the convenor of the NDA coalition, led demonstrations, accompanied by fiery speeches that pointed out that the new reforms have pitted the Congress versus the rest. But the government's attention was likely to be focused on key ally Mulayam Singh Yadav, who joined Left leaders in their protest near Parliament, and then accompanied them to a police station nearby to court arrest - a symbolic gesture. The ruling UPA coalition's survival depends largely on whether Mr Yadav will continue to offer external support, a commitment he has refused to make. (See pics)
Mr Yadav 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 TDP and HD Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular).
Mr Yadav was careful to distance himself from the BJP. "I am
supporting the government to stop communal forces. BJP se hamara koi
vaasta nahi hai
(We have no relationship with the BJP)."
Sharad Yadav asked supporters to put down their flags - "This is not a political movement," he said. "Never before have the lives of 25 crore traders been put at stake," he said. Parties like the BJP argue that by allowing FDI in retail, thousands of corner-stores will be put out of business. Mr Yadav was quick to point out that in protecting shop-owners, parties now have a common cause. He said the Emergency in the 70s had united political leaders against the Congress; FDI in retail has repeated that phenomenon, he stressed. (Track live updates)Delhi:
Shops in markets like Chandni Chowk in old Delhi are closed; so are schools. BJP president Nitin Gadkari will lead the party's protests in the capital. (Read)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 running late 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 have been detained in Patna for protesting against the government. Several other opposition leaders have also been detained. Activists from the BJP and its allies gathered at railway stations across Bihar and forcibly stopped train services, leaving thousands of passengers stranded.
"Protesters have tried to target trains and bus stations and (we expect) they will also target shops and business establishments," Ravinder Kumar, a senior police officer in Patna, the capital of Bihar, said. All private schools in the state were closed because of the strike, but government schools and offices remained open.
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.Bangalore:
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 were running on schedule and schools stayed open.Chennai:
The opposition DMK is a member of the UPA, but is supporting the strike today. However, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and her AIADMK are not. Therefore, most essential services remain unaffected. Left parties and the BJP staged protest on railway tracks.
(With inputs from agencies)