Nationwide protests against record high petrol and diesel prices are bringing India to a halt as the call for protest given by the left parties is now joined by twenty one others. As opposition unites, the BJP has gone in damage control mode.
Seven Left parties, including CPI (M), CPI, RSP, Forward Block, CP(ML), Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) and Communist Ghadar Party of India, staged a demonstration, alleging that the rise in fuel prices has a cascading inflationary effect. The Left parties, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], had called for the all-India bandh to protest against the slowdown of the economy due to rising fuel prices, agrarian crisis, inflation and unprecedented fall of the rupee. “We all must protest in the strongest manner to force this callous Narendra Modi government to reduce fuel prices by cutting excise duty drastically,” said Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the CPI (M). Yechury and D. Raja of the CPI have been taken into custody by the Delhi Police over the protests.
The protests were kickstarted by the Congress President Rahul Gandhi from Ram Lila Maidan in New Delhi. He said “The opposition is coming together to defeat the BJP government.” He added, “Narendra Modi ji is silent, he has not spoken a word on the rising prices of fuel, or condition of farmers, neither on atrocities against women.” Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also added, “Modi government has done a number of things that were not in the interest of the nation. The time to change this government will come soon.” The Congress leadership was joined by NCP chief Sharad Pawar and former JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav (now leader of the Loktantrik Janata Dal) in slamming the government. AAP MPs Sanjay Singh and Manoj Jha were part of the protests at Ramlila Maidan while other activists of the party held protests at Jantar Mantar.
Fuel prices had been constantly rising in several states across the country over the past few weeks, burning a hole in the pocket of common man. As such the call for bandh had elicited widespread response as visible from the impact of the bandh across the states. Speaking with NewsClick, Subhashini, a Political Bureau member of the CPI (M) said, “The protest marches and the juloos taken out by the opposition show a clear picture of people’s anger towards the government.” Currently on ground in Lucknow, she added, “The people are now protesting using tangas (horseback carriages) to show that under this government we cannot afford to ride in fuel run vehicles.” Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), also confirmed the success of the call for protests.
Meanwhile, the BJP has chosen to ignore the widespread impact of the bandh. “People are against Bharat Bandh because they understand that rise in fuel prices is temporary and due to factors beyond the control of government,” said Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, showing a complete lack of understanding of the situation on the ground.
Orissa and Karnataka have also announced a complete shutdown. The dawn-to-dusk hartal, called by the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF and Congress-headed opposition UDF to protest the rising fuel prices, has led to halt in the daily life in Kerala, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Both public and private transport buses and auto rickshaws are keeping off the roads, and with shops and schools remaining shut, the impact of the bandh shows the support it has from the public.
A major impact of the bandh was also visible in Bihar, which witnessed several instances of violence and multiple rail rokos were organised by the workers of Jan Adhikar party. Vandalism, including setting tyres on fire, and breaking of the windows of cars and buses gave the political protests a violent color. Instances of vandalism were also reported as the protests turned violent in Gujarat’s Bharuch district and Maharashtra's Pune. While MNS workers vandalised buses in Pune, protesters burnt tyres and halted the traffic in Bharuch.
In Gujarat, 50 members of the CPI (M), including Central Committee member Arun Mehta was arrested.
In Arunachal Pradesh, several Congress activists including Mahila Congress workers and Youth Congress president Geli Ete were arrested. Even though an official call for protests was not given by the TMC in West Bengal, however, the impact of the protests was visible across Kolkata and other parts with multiple rallies being taken out.
While protests continue in full swing, the BJP lashed out at the Congress at multiple fronts. In a press conference, BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “Everyone has a right to protest but what is happening today? Petrol pumps and buses being set ablaze, putting to risk lives. A child died after an ambulance was stuck in the protests in Bihar's Jehanabad. Who is responsible?” Initial reports had indicated that a two year old girl had died awaiting the ambulance amidst the bandh, but it was later confirmed that the death did not have anything to do with the bandh. Attacking the Congress, Yogi Adityanath also stated, “They represent the frustrated Opposition which doesn't have strategy and leadership,what else can be expected from them. I hope God gives them sense so they can differentiate between positive and negative, otherwise in future they will lose their position as Opposition as well.”
The free fall of the rupee has worsened the situation. On the day of the protests, the rupee hit an all time low of 72.50 against the dollar. The hike has fueled angst amongst the Opposition and citizens alike. Despite the scale of the protests and the ongoing crisis with the high fuel prices, Prime Minister Modi has not broken his silence on the issue. The opposition has clearly indicated that this show of unity will be used in paving the way for the 2019 elections.
Reacting to the bandh, Akhilesh Yadav took to Twitter, saying that the BJP government is arrogant and autocratic, and the people of the country will teach the government a lesson. Echoing a similar sentiment Tejashwi Yadav questioned the government over the soaring prices of fuel, he tweeted, “If the government cannot regulate the prices then, who will?” The opposition is capitalising on the bandh, to raise larger issues of GST, demonetisation, and communal politics against the government.
अहंकारी कह रहे हैं कि अगले 50 साल तक भाजपा सरकार ही रहेगी. मीडिया, सांविधानिक संस्थानों व लोगों की भीड़तंत्रीय हत्याओं के बाद अब क्या ये जनता के सरकार चुनने के अधिकार की भी हत्या करेंगे, जो ऐसे तानाशाही बयान दे रहे हैं. देखियेगा जनता अगले 50 हफ़्तों से पहले ही इनको जवाब दे देगी.
— Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) September 10, 2018
श्री @rsprasad जी फरमा रहे है तेल की क़ीमतों पर हमारा नियंत्रण नहीं है। मोदी जी पेट्रोल-डीज़ल की क़ीमतों को नियंत्रित नहीं कर सकते।
ई बताइये ज्ञानी मंत्री जी, पेट्रोल-डीज़ल को सरकारी नियंत्रण से बाहर किसने किया?
मोदी जी ने ही ना!
अब नियंत्रण में कौन करेगा?
सरदार मनमोहन सिंहजी
— Tejashwi Yadav (@yadavtejashwi) September 10, 2018