Mixed response to Bharat bandh call

Left and right come together on common platform

 A Samajwadi Party activist shouts slogans as they burn an effigy representing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his cabinet colleagues during a protest along railway tracks in Allahabad, India, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. Angry opposition workers have disrupted train services as part of a daylong strike in India to protest rising diesel prices and the government's decision to open the country's huge retail market to foreign companies. Placard reads 'Take Walmart back.' (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)The “Bharat bandh” called by a host of non-Congress parties to protest against the several reforms measures including FDI in multi-brand retail, hike in diesel prices and capping on subsidised LPG cylinders announced by the Union government evoked mixed response on Wednesday.

The shutdown disrupted rail traffic, more so in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha. The bandh had little impact in Mumbai, which is celebrating the 10-day-long Ganesh festival. Markets, shops and establishments in several cities across the country were closed for the day. Road traffic too was hit as state-run buses and autos stayed off the roads.

In Bangalore, the bandh call received good response, with most of the transport operations and commercial activities shutting down. Schools and colleges had declared holiday, and many private companies, including the big names in the Electronic City and those in industrial hubs like Peenya, Bommasandra were closed for the day. Government offices, including those at the Vidhana soudha and the Vikasa Soudha, had low attendance.

Commuters depending on the KSRTC and the BMTC were left in the lurch as the State-owned transporters stopped plying vehicles as early as 8 am, promising to resume normal service only after 6 pm. Passengers arriving by trains and overnight buses found themselves stranded. The few autorickshaws plying overcharged passengers. However, by late afternoon, bowing to passenger pressure, the BMTC resumed services and the KSRTC followed suit late in the evening.

Elsewhere...

Kolkata and parts of West Bengal were hit by the bandh despite the ruling Trinamool Congress, which is all set to pull out of the UPA government, distancing itself from the call.

The bandh was organised by a range of parties which included the BJP and its allies the Janata Dal (United), the Akali Dal, the Left parties, the Samajwadi Party, the Telugu Desam, the JD (Secular) etc. While the DMK, which is part of the ruling UPA at the Centre, joined the strike, parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party, the AIADMK and the Trinamool Congress did not support the bandh call. BJP ally Shiv Sena and the Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena did not participate in the strike, citing the Ganesh festival.

Top leaders of all the parties supporting the bandh courted arrest in Delhi and other state capitals. They included Mulayam Singh Yadav of the SP, senior BJP leaders including party chief Nitin Gadkari, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu and Left leaders Prakash Karat, A B Bardhan, Sitaram Yechuri etc.

In a rare occurrence, leaders of the Left and Right parties – the Communists and the BJP – appeared on a common platform at the demonstration organised by the traders’ association in Delhi. BJP leaders Nitin Gadkari and Murli Manohar Joshi shared the dais at Jantar Mantar with Left leaders Sitaram Yechury and A B Bardhan to voice their opposition to a slew of economic decisions taken by the UPA government.

At a press conference later, Gadkari, sharing his experience after visiting a Walmart store in the US during his recent foreign trip, said, “Products will come from there (China). It will end businesses of small traders. There is a perception that the decision (to allow FDI in retail) has been taken under foreign pressure”.

Finance Minister P Chidambaram remained critical of opposition parties resorting to a nationwide bandh saying the government will stick to the reforms course even if it were to lose an ally.

“In democracy, we respect the opposition rights to demonstrate against government's decision. But you are protesting and demonstrating against the decision of the government concerning the economy," he said and insisted that there will be no going back on reforms as the country needed massive economic growth.

Chidambaram also said it was ironic that the form of the protest adopted by the opposition had caused great economic losses as wage earners could not earn their wages and factories could not carry out their operations.

CII and Assocham estimated a loss of Rs 10,000-12,500 due to the day-long bandh.


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