NEW DELHI: On a day petrol sold at over Rs 80 a litre and the rupee crashed to Rs 72.67 per US dollar, 21 parties came together in a show of strength to slam the Narendra Modi government over high fuel prices, while the BJP slammed the Congress over the violence in some states during the bandh. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, who returned from Kailash Mansarovar on Sunday, led the Bharat Bandh protests at a petrol station near Ramlila Ground in Delhi attended by former party chief Sonia Gandhi, former PM Manmohan Singh, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, LJD’s Sharad Yadav and other Opposition leaders.
“The Opposition has one ideology and will defeat the BJP together,” Rahul said as he questioned the PM’s silence over high fuel prices. “It is time to throw out the BJP government,” Manmohan Singh said while urging the Opposition to carry on the fight against high fuel prices. Even as four parties, the SP, BSP and the Left parties, held separate protests, Congress managers claimed there was no rift in the Opposition camp.
Congress communications chief Randeep Singh downplayed their move, saying the SP and the BSP chose to hold protests in their stronghold Uttar Pradesh, while the CPI-M and the CPI staged dharnas at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. “The real purpose behind the bandh was to jointly articulate the plight of the 132 crore citizens suffering from high fuel prices,” said Surjewala.
He also cited the example of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who did not want her government to officially join the bandh but sent senior leader Sukhendu Shekhar Roy as her representative to Delhi and let her party workers support the protests in the state. Surjewala, who charged the government with accumulating 11 lakh crore through high fuel prices since 2014, said the protests would be taken to the various states to keep up pressure on the Centre.
“Why does not the Modi government roll back the excise and customs duties to bring down fuel prices by Rs 10-15 per litre and provide relief to the people,” he said, adding that since May 2014, the Modi government had increased ‘Central excise duty’ 12 times, raising the Central excise on petrol by 211 per cent and on diesel by 443 per cent.
To support his charge, the Congress leader pointed out that on May 16, 2014, when the previous UPA government lost the Lok Sabha polls, the international price of crude oil was $107.09 per barrel as against the current price of $73.
The leaders started the protests by paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat, where Rahul offered water from the Mansarovar lake. The 16 parties that took part in the protest included the Congress, LJD, NCP, AAP, RJD, RLD, IUML, Swabhiman Paksha, Kerala Congress-Mani, NC, JMM, JD-S, DMK, JVM, AIUDF, RSP, TDP and TMC.
The BJP appeared concerned over the issue but said the high fuel prices were a temporary phenomenon caused by global factors. Party chief Amit Shah held a meeting with Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan to deliberate on the issue. Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “Diesel, petrol price rise is out of our hands because oil-producing countries have limited production.”
Bandh: Violence, death spark row
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad slammed the Congress and other Opposition parties over the death of a two-year-old girl in Jehanabad, Bihar, during Monday’s Bharat Bandh. The girl died on the way to a hospital as no ambulance was available due to protests on the roads during the Bandh, which hit normal life in the state. .
“A child died after an ambulance was stuck in the protests in Bihar’s Jehanabad. Who is responsible,” Prasad asked at a news conference in New Delhi.
The girl was suffering from severe diarrhoea and her family’s efforts to get an ambulance or any four-wheeler to take her to the hospital failed. She was finally brought to the hospital in an autorickshaw.
The bandh, called by the Opposition parties to protest high fuel prices, evoked a mixed response in most parts of the country, with sporadic incidents of violence in some places.
Trains were halted by protesters in some states. Protesters also blocked national and state highways. Private schools in Bihar remained closed, while government schools and offices had thin attendance.
In Maharashtra, Minister of State for Home (Rural) Deepak Kesarkar said that according to the preliminary reports from across the state, the bandh was 47 to 50 per cent successful.
In West Bengal, the bandh evoked a mixed response, with normal life unaffected and police clashing with CPM and Congress cadres to lift blockades. There was lukewarm response in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh to the bandh call. Shops, banks and private offices and other establishments remained open and public transport plied as usual. In UP, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, the bandh evoked a mixed response.