New Delhi: Monday’s successful strike called by the opposition parties to protest soaring inflation and the recent hike in fuel prices may have resulted in losses of anything between Rs3,000 crore and Rs13,000 crore, according to industry lobby groups.
The Bharat bandh, called by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Left parties and non-NDA opposition parties disrupted life and work across India, and resulted in sporadic acts of violence by the protesters. In states ruled by these parties, the strike was near-total.
The Confederation of Indian Industry estimated the total loss to the economy on account of the strike at a minimum of Rs3,000 crore; the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India at around Rs10,000 crore; and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry at close to Rs13,000 crore.
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The finance ministry said that food inflation, which fell sharply by almost 4 percentage points during the third week of June, to 12.92%, would take some more time to fall to an acceptable level of 5-6%. “Food inflation is going down, it will take some time before it really comes into a range which is acceptable to the government and which is good for the people,” finance secretary Ashok Chawla told reporters on the sidelines of a conference on state highways in New Delhi.
The Opposition claimed the strike was “an unprecedented success”. Senior BJP leader and chairman of NDA L.K. Advani said: “Never before in the history of political agitation in independent India have so many opposition parties combined to register a joint protest on a single issue.” The opposition parties separately called for a shutdown, protesting the government’s last month decision to deregulate fuel prices, which resulted in petrol becoming costlier by Rs3.50 a litre and diesel by Rs2 per litre. It has also increased the prices of kerosene by Rs3 per litre and liquefied petroleum gas by Rs35 per cylinder.
Claiming that the common man had participated in the strike and made it a success, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) said it would continue its attempts to isolate the government politically. “The Left parties in consultation with secular opposition parties will chalk out plans for further intensifying the movement against price rise to compel the government to reverse these harmful steps,” the CPM said in a statement.
Leaders of both the BJP and the Left parties courted arrest in different cities; flights were disrupted in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata; and angry political workers attacked buses, blocked roads and organized sit-in protests across the cities. According to an Indian Railways spokesperson, the running of 340 long-distance trains was affected.
Both the NDA and other parties demanded a rollback in the government’s decision on fuel prices. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday had said there was no question of doing this.
Terming the Bharat bandh as a “complete flop”, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: “Except for the state-sponsored initiatives in certain states where they are in power, it has been a complete flop; (there has been a) complete negative reaction against the bandh.”
The government has justified its 25 June decision on fuel prices and said the move was an attempt to bring retail prices of fuel closer to their actual cost. Even after the move, the retail prices of essential energy products such as diesel, kerosene and cooking gas continue to be subsidized, the government said in a press release.
In Congress-ruled Delhi, the strike was partial. In Mumbai, Shiv Sena activists tried to stop suburban trains and schools, colleges and businesses were closed down. In Kolkata, the capital of the Left-ruled West Bengal, public transport was off the roads. And in Bangalore, capital of BJP-ruled Karnataka, software firms remained closed.
Strikes in India were declared illegal by the Supreme Court of India in 1998. In a landmark judgement the apex court upheld the Kerala high court ruling of 1997, which declared, forced bandhs by political parties as “illegal and unconstitutional”.
In 2007, the Supreme Court made a rare sitting on a Sunday and restrained the then ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam front in Tamil Nadu from going ahead with the statewide bandh protesting a canal project. The court said that such protests essentially paralysed public life and violated the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Article 19 (Freedom of speech) and Article 21 (Right to Liberty) of the Constitution.
Manish Ranjan, Rahul Chandran, Tarun Shukla of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.