New Delhi: The main Opposition parties, the BJP and the Left, have called for a Bharat bandh today to protest last week's hike in petrol prices. The hike was the steepest ever at Rs 6.28 plus local taxes, and the demand for a rollback has been universal.
Big UPA allies like the Trinamool and the DMK too have strongly protested, but both parties made it clear that they will not destabilise the central government. In Trinamool-Congress-ruled Kolkata, early morning saw fewer people on the road.
The bandh has evoked a mixed response with most cities being largely peaceful barring a few pockets which have been badly hit. Few trains have been stopped in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. In Bihar, Sharad Yadav, the president of the ruling Janata Dal (United), who is also the Convenor of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, has been arrested in Saharsa.
In Mumbai, sporadic incidents of violence have been reported from the suburbs of Andheri and Mulund. Suburban Local trains are not as crowded as they usually are during the morning rush to work. All Opposition parties in Maharashtra, the BJP, the Shiv Sena, the Republican Party of India and the Left are observing the bandh. The BJP and Shiv Sena have promised that essential services will not be affected, but have appealed to shopkeepers to keep their establishments closed. The Mumbai Police is not taking chances and have deployed 48,000 cops on bandh duty. Special attention is being paid to sensitive areas like Chembur, Dadar, Jogeshwari, Govandi and Byculla. Though the city's taxi and autorickshaw union leaders have said that they will not participate in the bandh, there could be fewer people out driving for fear of violence and damage to vehicles.
In the capital, traders, autorickshaws and business organisations have said they will participate in the bandh. Delhi could see transport problems as BJP workers plan to block traffic and stage demonstrations at major locations. (Read: Traffic during bandh - areas to avoid in Delhi)
"Friend" of the UPA Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP), prominent by the side of the Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi at the UPA's anniversary dinner a few days ago, is not extending his friendship on the petrol issue. His party opposes the hike and the Akhilesh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh has announced a statewide bandh. The UP government has also informed the assembly that its cash-strapped exchequer cannot afford to ease the burden on the common man by withdrawing the more than 20 percent value added tax (VAT) that the state imposes on petrol, unlike Congress-ruled states like Delhi, Kerala and Uttarakhand, which have cut VAT. A district leader of the SP, Ravindra Yadav, even said the party had burnt an effigy of PM Manmohan Singh in protest.
"Today we are doing protest in the whole state on the direction of Mulayam Singh Yadav. People are continuously dying due to corruption and inflation. If they don't control inflation, then we will do hunger strike and self-immolation," Mr Yadav said.
Protests in Delhi:
BJP workers have blocked roads in east Delhi as part of the nationwide shutdown. There were reports of some roads being blocked in north Delhi as well. The Delhi Traffic Police is also sending text messages to people as part of its 'alerts'.
Fewer autorickshaws are plying on the roads and public transport is likely to be hit. Nearly 300 trader associations in the city will also keep markets shut to support the shutdown.
Protests in Maharashtra:
In Mumbai, two buses of BEST were damaged in stone-pelting in the Andheri area. A double-decker bus was also attacked. BJP workers also attacked buses in suburban Mulund.
In Nagpur, Shiv Sena and BJP workers burnt tyres and also attacked buses.
In Satara, Shiv Sena and BJP workers have stopped all buses from plying in on the roads. They have also asked shops to close down.
Protests in West Bengal:
In Kolkata, BJP workers tried to block the road to the airport at Baguihati. They also burnt rubber tyres. The police finally dispersed the crowd and one person was arrested. Bandh supporters also blocked the Howrah bridge, which connects the metropolis to the Howrah district. Protestors torched a stationary state government bus, but there were no injuries. Police have arrested 38 people for trying to disrupt traffic by putting up road blockades in various areas of Kolkata and Howrah.
Protestors also blocked roads at Chapadali More in Barasat in the Bankura district, Budge Budge and some other places, police said. They also damaged some buses in some places, they said.
Protests in Uttar Pradesh:
Samajwadi Party workers are protesting on railway tracks in Allahabad, raising slogans against the Centre. They have also blocked a few trains.
Protests in Bihar:
JD(U) workers have staged a rail roko in Patna and local trains have been affected.
JD(U) president Sharad Yadav has been arrested in Saharsa.
Protests in Jharkhand:
Three Rajdhani trains - Delhi-Howrah, Delhi-Sealdah and Delhi-Bhubneshwar - have been stopped near Koderma.