Bharat Bandh protests were witnessed in various parts of the country. (Reuters)
New Delhi: A united opposition led by the Congress went toe-to-toe with the BJP today over fuel price hike, calling a nationwide strike that was enforced in at least five states. Sporadic violence was reported from some areas -- triggering BJP accusations of the strike being enforced through a "dance of violence and game of death". Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the opposition was "desperate" as people understood the government hadn't caused the fuel price hike and did not support the strike that was backed by 22 opposition parties. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, in a scathing attack, accused the BJP of spreading hatred and dividing the nation.
Here are the top 10 updates on Bharat Bandh:
Rahul Gandhi was joined by his mother Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh at Delhi's Ramlila grounds. Taking a dig at PM Modi, Mr Gandhi said the prime minister's claim that what happened in the last four years of his rule has not happened in 70 years is actually true. "Hatred is being spread, one Indian is fighting the other, the country is being divided," he said.
"Diesel, petrol price rise is out of our hands because oil producing countries have limited production... We're not saying we can't do anything. The BJP strongly believes that despite some momentary difficulties, the people of India do not support this protest," union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
Twenty-two opposition parties are participating in the Bharat Bandh -- the exception being Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. Top opposition leaders like Sharad Pawar, MK Stalin and Left leaders have supported the strike, the effect of which was especially evident in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala and Bihar.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu announced a cut in state tax for fuel today, which will bring the prices down by Rs 2. A similar cut was announced yesterday by the BJP government in Rajasthan, where elections will be held later this year.
Violence was reported from some states. In parts of Gujarat's Bharuch, protesters burnt tyres and forced shops to close. In Bihar capital Patna, Jan Adhikar Party workers vandalised vehicles. In Maharashtra's Pune, the police arrested six workers of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena who were trying to close shops forcibly. The Congress said it has urged party workers not to indulge in any violent protest.
Hitting out at the opposition parties, Mr Prasad said they should stop this "dance of violence and game of death". Citing the death of a three-year old girl in Bihar who died before getting medical attention because of the ambulance being delayed, the minister asked if Congress president Rahul Gandhi will take responsibility for it.
Schools and colleges remained closed in Bengaluru as Karnataka's ruling Janata Dal Secular, which is in alliance with the Congress, said it would support the day-long protest. Schools in Odisha too are closed, though Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's party refused to back the shutdown.
Train and road traffic were affected in many parts of Bihar. Over a dozen long distance trains had to be stopped at Patna, Gaya, Bhojpur, Jehanabad, Bhagalpur and Muzaffarpur railway stations.
The ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal expressed support on the issues on which the shutdown has been called, but said it was against any kind of strike in the state according to the stated policy of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The price of petrol has been spiralling with the rising price of crude oil following US sanctions on Iran and the slide of rupee against the dollar. Petrol has touched an all-time high of Rs. 88 in Maharashtra. In one pocket of the state, Pharbani, it has touched Rs. 89.97.