Fuel hike: Oppn gears up for nationwide shutdown

Normal life is expected to be hit in parts of India on Monday as a divided opposition joins hands to enforce a nationwide shutdown to protest against rising prices and the fuel price hike.

New Delhi: Normal life is expected to be hit in parts of India on Monday as a divided opposition joins hands to enforce a nationwide shutdown to protest against rising prices and the fuel price hike.

For the first time in a long time, while still remaining ideologically poles apart, the Left and Right are separately backing the day-long strike seeking a rollback of the fuel prices.

And with the Congress-led government making it clear that it will not reverse its decision, the opposition is determined to prove its strength on the streets.

"It is for the first time after the JP movement that all non-Congress parties are coming together on a specific issue," Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) convenor Sharad Yadav said.

He was referring to the mass movement of the 1980s led by Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP as he was popularly known.

Predicting that the Monday shutdown would be a "historic event", Yadav called upon the young, especially students, to take to the streets that day.

It will be a major showdown between the government and the opposition since the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) took office last year.

"The unity among the opposition parties in organising the Bharat Bandh is unprecedented. The BJP and others have risen above party considerations to take up the burning issue of soaring prices of essential commodities," BJP president Nitin Gadkari said.

Since the dawn-to-dusk work stoppage is backed by the entire opposition, it is widely expected to affect life across the country, in most areas of the economy.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry admitted that businesses will be hit Monday. "Obviously some businesses will be affected in parts of the country," said Anjan Roy, its economic affairs advisor.

Already truck owners have extended their "moral support" to the shutdown.

"We are supporting the Bharat Bandh. We are heavily hit because of the diesel price hike, to the tune of Rs 1,000 for national permit trucks and Rs 500 for vehicles running locally," All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) chief G R Shanmugappa said over phone from Bangalore.

The Central government last week ended government curbs on petroleum pricing and hiked the prices of petrol, diesel, kerosene and cooking gas. The price of kerosene, the poor man`s fuel, had been untouched for around a decade.

The prices of diesel went up by Rs 2 a litre, kerosene by Rs 3 a litre, cooking gas by Rs 35 per cylinder and petrol by Rs 3.50 a litre. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the decision was in the national interest.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has been very critical of the government.

"Having assumed office in the name of aam aadmi (common man), the UPA-2 government is trying to devastate the livelihood of the people. This is simply unacceptable," the CPI-M said.

Political activists say the fuel price hike has come at a time when prices of food items are already running high, making life difficult not just for the poor but also the middle class.

The CPI-M was among the first to demand an all-India action to denounce the latest price increase.

It quickly got in touch with other Left parties, the Samajwadi Party, the AIADMK, the Telugu Desam Party, the Biju Janata Dal and the Indian National Lok Dal.

But it kept away from the BJP and BJP allies.

Janata Dal-United`s Sharad Yadav then got into the act, speaking and persuading the BJP to come on board vis-à-vis the shutdown. He succeeded.

Thus the BJP, the Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena were also roped in.


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