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UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi greets NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Congress president Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on Monday. Photo: PTI.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi greets NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Congress president Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on Monday. Photo: PTI.

With fuel price protests, Congress tries to corner NDA, unite opposition

Cong pitches nationwide protest as a signifier of opposition unity, claims at least 20 parties backed cause

New Delhi: The nationwide protest, or Bharat Bandh, called by opposition parties against spiralling fuel prices on Monday was marked by an attempt by the Congress party to stitch together two things—a narrative against the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and a coalition of regional parties on a common platform against the government.

As of now, the central government is not planning to reduce excise duty on petroleum products despite widespread demand. However, some states like Andhra Pradesh have announced a reduction in the value-added tax (VAT) levied on petroleum products.

The Congress pitched the nationwide protests as a signifier of opposition unity and claimed that at least 20 parties lent support to its cause. With the government in the last year of its tenure, the Congress’ focus has been on raising policy issues which directly affect the people, including fuel price hike, the plummeting rupee, economy, farm distress and small businesses.

“PM Modi keeps making promises. In 2014, a lot of people believed him and his government was formed. Four years have passed now and everyone clearly knows what is it that this government has done...," Congress president Rahul Gandhi said.

Gandhi, who recently returned from a visit to Kailash Mansarovar, a Hindu pilgrimage destination, symbolically started the protest with a visit to Rajghat, the Gandhi memorial. Joined by senior Congress and opposition party leaders, he then led a protest outside a nearby petrol station.

“While the opposition is protesting, prices of petrol and diesel have been hiked again this morning. This reflects the government’s audacity and arrogance and insensitivity towards the common man," Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief, said in Lucknow.

Opposition parties joining the Bandh included left parties, SP, Bahujan Samaj Party, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), National Conference (NC) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK).

Fuel prices touched a record high on Monday with diesel and petrol prices hitting 72.83 per litre and 80.73 per litre respectively in Delhi.

“It’s unnerving that the Congress and opposition have to resort to violence to overawe the people of India. An atmosphere of fear is being created. When people’s support is not there, they are resorting to aggression," Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters.

The Bandh was near-total in Kerala, a success in many parts of Karnataka, especially Bengaluru, and evoked tepid to mixed response in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Gujarat and Maharashtra, as well as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and had almost no impact in Tamil Nadu. Left parties, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), had also called for an all-India Bandh, and took out a demonstration at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar.

“The Congress was successful in rallying 15-20 small and big opposition parties. As an opposition party, Congress has raised a very basic issue as the concern is spread across large sections of the country," said N. Bhaskar Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

Utpal Bhaskar and Pretika Khanna from New Delhi, Aniek Paul from Kolkata, Abhiram Ghadyalpatil from Mumbai, Nidheesh M.K. from Bengaluru and Yunus Lasania from Hyderabad contributed to this story.

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