Opposition threatens nationwide strike over fuel hikes

Opposition threatens nationwide strike over fuel hikes

New Delhi: The opposition parties are gearing up for a national strike to protest the government’s move to hike fuel prices, putting pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition before the next Parliament’s session.

Last Friday’s hikes in petrol, diesel and kerosene were seen as a bold reform with which to attack India’s fiscal deficit and that also play well at the G-20 summit in Toronto, which has urged the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.

Opposition parties — and members of Singh’s coalition — have slammed the hike as an attack on people’s pockets. The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is coordinating a strike with smaller, regional parties.

“A nationwide strike is on the cards," Prakash Javdekar, a spokesperson for the BJP said, without saying when such as a strike could take place.

Opposition parties, though, are divided on many issues and may face obstacles in uniting against the government.

Adjusting fuel prices to market rates could also stoke headline inflation that is already in double digits, and could spell trouble for Singh’s government trying to pass Bills in the next session of Parliament in July.

Singh’s Congress party-led government comfortably fended off a challenge to its rule in a parliamentary vote in April over tax rises in the Budget.

But efforts to push Bills, including one which is crucial to a civilian nuclear deal with the United States, have been blocked by opposition protests and unruly allies.

The CPI(M), India’s biggest Communist party, said it will take also “mass action" but has not decided whether it will join an India-wide strike.

“Politically, the Congress is saying that double-digit inflation will have to be tolerated in the short run. It is this line of thinking that has emboldened the (government) to raise oil prices," the Financial Express wrote in an editorial on Monday.