By Prarthana Mitra
The countrywide call for bandh by opposition parties was met with a mixed response on September 10, from tens of thousands who gave vent to their grievances against the recent unchecked hike in fuel prices. By Monday, the price of petrol per litre skyrocketed to Rs 80.50, and Rs 87.89 in Mumbai.
Interesting comparison of Petrol-Diesel prices during UPA and NDA time. While in UPA 2 Petrol prices were increased by 75.8% in five years, it increased by 13% in NDA. Diesel price increased by 83.7% in five years of UPA2 and 28% in NDA. #BharatBand pic.twitter.com/i6kjZTd1MQ
— Akhilesh Sharma (@akhileshsharma1) September 10, 2018
Amidst reports of violent protests and disruption in certain states, the bandh was observed peacefully by most states.
Central and eastern states
In Madhya Pradesh, Congress workers rallied in many towns and cities asking traders and petrol pump managers to shut their outlets. Sporadic violence was reported in Ujjain and quelled by the police in the BJP-ruled state. The call received a mixed response in pockets, although most petrol pumps, shops and educational institutions remained open in Bhopal.
In Jharkhand, the bandh affected “nearly five lakh daily wage labourers because of disruption caused by troublemakers, 6000 of them in Ranchi alone,” said BJP party spokesperson Pratul Shahdeo, who accused the opposition of playing disruptive politics for media optics.
Chattisgarh observed the bandh peacefully by foreclosing schools, colleges, and shops. Congress leaders led the bandh in major cities like Raipur and Bilaspur, with groups enacting small skits on the petrol price hike over the day. The bandh call gained further validation after the Chhattisgarh Chamber of Commerce announced its support on Sunday.
In neighbouring Odisha, the Congress and Left parties picketed prominent locations, brought life to a complete halt in Rourkela, and disrupted train services in Cuttack and Sambalpur. Amidst demands for reduction in excise duties and VAT, the protests continued without much violence or vandalism. “Congress demands petroleum and all products, including cooking gas, be brought under GST”, said Congress leader Narasingha Mishra. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik arrived at the Secretariat flanked by heavy security while several ministers walked or biked to work. The Assembly proceedings were not as peaceful, as some Congress MLAs climbed onto the Speaker’s podium, leading to adjournment for the day.
Normal life was heavily affected in Assam, where scores of people braved detainment from the police to protest on the streets. Besides numerous instances of tyre burning, road blocking and disrupting rail services, most educational institutes, gas stations, shops and markets in Guwahati were closed for the most part of the day.
Northern and western states
Shops in Rajasthan remained closed, although police intervention prevented violence from breaking out in certain areas where bandh supporters were coercing shop owners to observe the strike. SDG of police NRK Reddy said, “We had deployed large number of police personnel to control the law and order situation.”
— BloombergQuint (@BloombergQuint) September 10, 2018
In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena which is amidst a public fallout with the centre was notably not a part of the massive agitation against the price hike. MP Sanjay Raut, however, denied BJP’s role in the party’s decision to stay away from the protest. The bandh took a violent turn when protestors attacked a school bus and obstructed an ambulance in Jehanabad, which led to the death of a two-year-old. Seeking an investigation, Maharashtra Congress leader Ashok Chavan said that this was unfortunate, “We had appealed for a peaceful bandh. We do not believe in violence,” he said.
I thank people of Gujarat for voluntarily supporting the #BharatBandh called by @INCIndia to raise issue of petrol & diesel price,unemployment,price rise & plight of farmers. This shows that Government has lost its support among all sections of society. #MehangiPadiModiSarkar pic.twitter.com/uYSWytM2ld
— Amit Chavda (@AmitChavdaINC) September 10, 2018
In Uttarakhand, the bandh was reported as successful by Congress spokespersons, due to support not only from the CPI and the SP but also from common people who had voted for the BJP and are now facing the brunt of it. Most altercations were restricted between shopkeepers and Congress workers in Dehradun, while markets remained shuttered till the afternoon.
In Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka, life came to an absolute standstill, as the ruling left government backed by the Congress called for bandh from dawn to dusk. Nothing but two-wheelers were plying on streets, as agitators pelted stones at the few cars which braved the bandh call. Needless to say, all shops, business establishments and educational institutions were closed, and government offices reported thin attendance.
In Tamil Nadu, opposition leaders held a symbolic funeral procession for motorbikes; fishermen came in hordes in support of the bandh. The Tamil Nadu Traders’ Federation, however, announced Monday morning that since Ganesh Chaturthi is around the corner, they will not support the bandh but will instead protest the high fuel prices in Delhi on September 28. Despite the announcement, several establishments were attacked and escalated to heated arguments.
In a bid to stem the inflation, the state government of Andhra government announced a reduction of Rs 2 per litre in the prices of petrol and diesel.
#BREAKING – CM @ncbn announces reduction in petrol and diesel price by Rs. 2 each. The new rates of petrol and diesel will come into effect from the morning of 11th September. #OilShock #FuelProtests pic.twitter.com/gIhtqcDvwP
— News18 (@CNNnews18) September 10, 2018
Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot said that the Bharat Bandh’s success highlights how the BJP-led government has failed to keep its promises. “The country was misled by lies that fuel prices will go down — but nothing happened. Only politics was discussed at the national executive meet,” he said, referring to the high-profile BJP summit over the weekend.
Targetting the NDA government over the high petrol and diesel prices, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala asked if the high taxation on petrol (VAT in MP is 35.80%) is due to global reasons.
“Until Modi government brings fuel price under GST or reduce VAT, Congress will continue this people’s movement,” he said.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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