Congress-led Bharat Bandh Fuels Opposition Fire at Modi Govt, BJP Dubs it a ‘Flop Show’
In states like Kerala, Karnataka, Bihar, Odisha and Arunachal Pradesh, life was hit by the shutdown while Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Mizoram remained largely unaffected.
Congress party workers set a scooter on fire during 'Bharat Bandh' protest in Jabalpur on Monday. (PTI Photo)
New Delhi: The Congress led 20 opposition parties in protest against peaking fuel prices on Monday as it tried to project the stir as yet another show of strength against the Narendra Modi government.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi started the protests after offering holy water from the Mansarovar lake at Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Raj Ghat, where he along with several senior Congress leaders sat in protest for nearly three hours.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and estranged Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav also joined the protest.
The day-long shutdown evoked a mixed response and was largely peaceful but there were sporadic incidents of violence reported from a few states, particularly Bihar, where normal life was disrupted by violent protests and vandalisation and the death of a child.
At the end of the day, while Congress declared the Bharat Bandh a success, BJP rejected it saying it was a flop and also refrained from reining in prices.
Scores of Congress activists were taken into police custody in several states for forcibly trying to enforce the bandh. Train services were disrupted in Odisha, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Bihar witnessed widespread arson, vandalism and disruption of rail and road traffic. Burning tyres were placed on railway tracks in the old Patna city area disrupting movement of trains.
A two-year-old girl died on her way to Jehanabad civil hospital in Bihar as the vehicle carrying her got stuck in a road blockade during the Bharat Bandh. The BJP attacked Congress over the death and asked whether the party’s leadership would take responsibility for this death.
Altogether 58 Congress activists were on Monday taken into police custody in Jharkhand for forcibly trying to enforce the 'Bharat Bandh' called by the party, a police officer said.
In the national capital, normal life remained unaffected with offices, schools and colleges functioning normally and vehicles plying on the roads.
Protesters burnt tyres and blocked traffic in Assam. In states like Kerala, Karnataka, Bihar, Odisha and Arunachal Pradesh, life was hit by the shutdown while Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Mizoram remained largely unaffected.
The Left parties observed a 12-hour strike in Kerala and West Bengal instead of the 9 am to 3 pm shutdown called by the Congress and other parties. Normal life was thrown out of gear in Congress-JDS ruled Karnataka. Roads in Bangaluru wore a deserted look as government buses, private taxis and most autorickshaws stayed off the roads. Businesses, shops, malls and private enterprises remained closed.
Congress workers ride a bullock-cart during the 'Bharat Bandh' in Bengaluru on Monday. (PTI Photo)
As the Congress targeted the Modi government at a protest rally in Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, the bandh that drew a mixed response across the country did manage to shut down offices and educational institutes and put vehicles off the roads in some states.
Months before the 2019 elections, Congress, powered by 20 opposition parties including the Left, called the nationwide agitation to protest against Modi government’s inaction to rein in soaring fuel prices and the falling rupee.
However, the absence of both BSP and SP from the protest march in Delhi took some sheen of the opposition unity on display. The Congress said both the parties had lent their support and held a joint protest in UP.
Speaking at the Ramlila rally, Rahul Gandhi said, "The rupee has never has been weaker in 70 years of independence. Farmers, labourers see no light at the end of the tunnel. Only 15-20 big industrialists are prospering."
Addressing the protest rally, Gandhi alleged the ruling BJP was spreading hatred and that the country was being divided under the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said it was time for all opposition parties to shed their differences and move forward unitedly "to save" sovereignty and democracy.
While many joined the Congress in its mega agitation, a few political parties like Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP stayed away from formally joining the Congress-sponsored agitation.
Mamata Banerjee, who is among the strongest critics of BJP, said she "in principle" supported the issue on which the 'Bharat Bandh' was called but not the bandh.
On the other hand, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused its opponents of "unnecessarily politicising" high fuel prices and the weakening currency, which it blamed on external factors such as Turkey's economic crisis that affected the emerging markets.
A Jan Adhikar Party supporter vandalises vehicles in Patna. (Image: PTI)
Despite the nationwide agitation that was supported by many, a cut in taxes on petrol and diesel was ruled out by top government officials who said neither the central government nor some states have the appetite to stomach revenue losses from such a move.
While a cut in excise duty that the central government levies will impact fiscal deficit, states like Bihar, Kerala, and Punjab are not in a position to cut sales tax (or VAT), the official, who wished not to be identified, said.
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad condemned the incidents of violence and said, "The BJP strongly believes that despite some momentary difficulties, the people of India do not support this protest.”
Prices in Delhi, where rates are the cheapest among all metros and most state capitals because of lower VAT, saw petrol touch an all-time high of Rs 80.73 per litre on Monday while diesel scaled to new high of Rs 72.83 a litre.
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