The Congress Friday demonstrated in several parts of the country against the rising fuel prices, during which over 150 members were detained in Gujarat, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh for allegedly violating Covid protocol and protesting without permission. The protests, in response to a call given by the Congress leadership, came on a day when another hike — the 22nd since May 4 — pushed the fuel prices across the country to historic heights. The protesters pulled bullock carts, rode horse carts, staged a street play, pulled a car using a rope and set another on fire to highlight their concerns.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi asked as to how much will the BJP "loot". "GDP crashing, Unemployment soaring, Fuel prices skyrocketing. In how many more ways is #BJPLootingIndia," he asked on Twitter.
The protesting leaders said the rising fuel prices and inflation have compounded the problem people were already facing due to the pandemic. "During the pandemic, Modi government collected taxes on petrol-diesel: Rs 2.74 lakh crore," party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted. An official party statement later claimed the protests were held across the country. It said that barring a few incidents of "police highhandedness" in UP and Gujarat where Congress workers were stopped and detained these protests were peaceful.
The party said 140 crore people of India are suffering the "Modi-made disaster" of inflation, unemployment, economic recession and the coronavirus pandemic. Petrol is retailing above the Rs 100 per litre mark in six states and union territories — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Ladakh. In the last 13 months, the BJP government raised petrol and diesel rates by Rs 26.25 and Rs 24.46 respectively, the Congress alleged. "This amounts to a shocking 820 percent hike in excise duty on diesel and 258 percent increase in excise duty on petrol." Over 30 Congress workers were detained during the protests at petrol pumps in the national capital with the police saying they flouted the Covid protocol. Party leaders K C Venugopal and Shakti Singh Gohil reached the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium petrol pump on a horse cart. "The government should stop imposing excise duty on petrol and diesel. It should come under the purview of Goods and Services Tax. We demand a complete rollback of fuel price hike," Venugopal, who is the Congress general secretary, said.
Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu and other party workers were detained by police before their protest. "I was not allowed to step out of the house in the morning and later brought to the Eco Garden where about 350 party workers, including MLC Dipak Singh and other-officer bearers were present," Lallu said over the phone.
Protests were staged across the state, he said, adding that party leaders were “arrested” in Allahabad too.
More than 100 Congress workers, MLAs and leaders were detained in different parts of the BJP-ruled Gujarat too for staging the protest without a police permission, an official said.
During the protest in Punjab, some protesters set fire to an old car, saying they wanted to send a message to the Centre that common people are unable to maintain vehicles because of the high cost of fuel.
The party’s workers staged a street play in Panchkula while some rode bullock carts and horse carts as a mark of protest.
In Madhya Pradesh, during a protest at a petrol pump in New Market in Bhopal, led by Congress Rajya Sabha MP Digvijaya Singh, party workers held placards denouncing the Centre and highlighting the ‘excessive taxation’ on fuel.
Former Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot staged a dharna outside a petrol pump in Sanganer area.
“People lost jobs and labourers are not getting wages. It is very sad that lakhs of people died. Dead bodies were seen in rivers and every family struggled with coronavirus. In such a situation, the government is not taking any step to control inflation and is also increasing fuel prices,” he said.
Down south, Congress workers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu gathered outside petrol pumps to demand a roll back of the rise in prices.
Leading the protest in Tamil Nadu, state Congress president K S Alagiri said while people grappled with the second wave of COVID-19, the rise in fuel prices is set to have a cascading effect leading to an increase in prices of essential commodities too. Responding to the protests, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, ‘International crude price is at its place. People asking us questions should get VAT reduced in the states ruled by them. This will provide relief.’