Opposition strike over fuel price hike disrupts

Opposition strike over fuel price hike disrupts

New Delhi: Many flights were cancelled and trucks stayed off the roads in India on Monday in response to a day-long strike called by opposition parties to protest fuel price hikes they say will add to double-digit inflation.

The strike, called by the main Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and leftist parties, is seen as a test of opposition strength as the ruling Congress party attempts to push ahead with key reforms in Asia’s third largest economy.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Sunday there was no question of rolling back the hike in fuel prices even though it would exacerbate inflation. The hike helped prompt the central bank on Friday to raise interest rates by 25 basis points, nearly a month ahead of a scheduled policy review.

India freed up state-subsidised petrol prices late last month and raised the prices of other fuels as pressure to trim a budget deficit outweighed concerns about the political impact.

The increase in fuel prices will add nearly one percentage point to wholesale price index (WPI) inflation, which hit 10.16% in May, the government has said.

On Monday, many schools, colleges and offices were shut across the country and markets were deserted. The strength of the strikes varied from state to state, generally depending on whether the opposition or Congress controlled the state governments. Airports in Mumbai and Delhi were open, but some flights were cancelled in response to low passenger loads, a spokesman said.

The airport in Kolkata, a leftist bastion, was shut and the city of Bangalore in the BJP-ruled Karnataka state was practically shut down, with all software firms closed.

In Mumbai, taxis stayed off the streets, and security was tight at train stations and bus stops.

The national truckers’ union said more than 600,000 trucks would stay off the roads to express their “solidarity with the people of India, who are already suffering immensely due to heavy dose of inflation, which (is) going to be further aggravated by this unwarranted hike in the price of motor fuels".

For Chandra Bai, a domestic helper in Mumbai, the strike was not quite the show of support for the common man that the opposition claimed it is:

“On one hand, all prices have sky rocketed. On the other hand, they call a strike and trouble us even more. Where is the relief of us?"