Congress’ ‘Bharat Bandh’ evokes a mixed response in north India


NEW DELHI/CHANDIGARH/LUCKNOW, Sep 10: Congress workers across north India hit the streets Monday to protest the "steep hike" in fuel prices even as the 'Bharat Bandh' call given by the party evoked a mixed response.
Normal life was largely unaffected in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh while schools and shops were closed at several places in Rajasthan. The 'bandh' call evoked a mixed response in Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand.
In the national capital, offices, schools and colleges opened at regular time despite the 'Bharat Bandh' call. Traffic movement was normal across the city. However, roads leading to Rajghat and Ramlila Maidan where Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and party top brass, including Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, held a protest witnessed traffic congestion.
Congress workers staged 'dharnas' at petrol pumps to protest the hike in fuel prices. Heavy police deployment was made in the city with reserve police personnel and motorcycle patrols being put on high alert, a senior officer said.
Congress leaders, including Delhi unit chief Ajay Maken, protested by riding a bullock cart to a petrol pump near Rajendra Place. A scooter was kept down on the cart symbolising the "plight of the common man", party leaders said.
"The prices of fuel have gone up without any break because the AAP government in Delhi and the BJP-ruled central government have kept on increasing VAT and excise duties on petroleum products," Maken said.
In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, protests had little impact on normal life as most commercial establishments and educational institutions functioned as usual. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath slammed the Opposition accusing it of "negative thinking".
"This (bandh) is a manifestation of their negative thinking. India is rising as the biggest economy in the world under Prime Minister NarendraModi. Welfare schemes are being launched, people are getting benefits. In such a scenario, nothing else can be expected from the desperate and demoralised opposition, which has no leadership or plans or strategy for the future," Adityanath told reporters in Lucknow.
He said the opposition should play a positive role.
Hitting back, Congress state president Raj Babbar said, "The rise in prices of petrol and diesel have severely affected common man and government is not serious towards their problems."
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said that even as the opposition was protesting, prices of petrol and diesel were hiked again this morning. This reflects the government's arrogance and callousness towards the common man, he alleged.
The 'Bharat Bandh' call evoked a mixed response in Punjab, Haryana and Union Territory Chandigarh.
Though the Chandigarh Congress unit claimed that the bandh call had public support, local BJP MP KirronKher said there was no impact. She also posted a video of the markets on Twitter, saying all the shops and markets were open.
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, who was leading the protest in Jalandhar, said the Centre had turned a "blind eye" to the sufferings of common man.
"The way prices of petrol and diesel are going upwards, the days are not far when it will cross the Rs 100 per litre mark," he said.
In Haryana also, Congress workers took out protest marches and held demonstrations at Ambala, Panchkula, Yamunanagar, Rohtak and Panipat. Haryana Congress MLAs led by former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda took out a protest march in Chandigarh.
In Srinagar, the Jammu and Kashmir unit of the Congress took out a protest rally. However, there was no affect of the bandh call on the normal life in the valley.
In Jammu, several hundred Congress activists were detained as the party staged protests across the region. The party's call to the business community and transporters to join the strike, however, failed to evoke much response.
Schools and markets remained closed in Rajasthan during the opposition-sponsored 'Bharat Bandh'.
The Congress held demonstrations and rallies in various districts including state capital Jaipur where PCC president Sachin Pilot, AICC general secretary AvinashPande led the protest march.
"Public has supported the bandh and we are getting a good response from all cities and towns. The state government has reduced only four per cent VAT on diesel and petrol which is insufficient and the government will have to provide more relief to public," Pilot told reporters.
The bandh call evoked a mixed response in Himachal Pradesh. Many shops were shut till noon in Lower Bazar, Middle Bazar, Ram Bazar and Lakkar Bazar in Shimla.
As per reports, some shops and business establishments remained closed in Solan, Chamba, Sirmaur, Dharamshala, Kangra, Palampur, Mandi, Rampur, Kullu, Una and Hamirpur.
Congress workers across Uttarakhand hit the streets to protest against the rise in petrol and diesel prices. The 'Bharat Bandh' call given by the party, however, received a mixed response with visible impact in places like Uttarkashi and Rishikesh while in several other cities there was only isolated closure of shops. However, Sporadic incidents of violence were reported Monday during a Congress-led opposition sponsored 'Bharat Bandh' against spiralling fuel prices that disrupted normal life mainly in Bihar, Kerala, Karnataka, Assam and Odisha.
As the Congress top brass including party chief Rahul Gandhi targeted the Modi government at a protest rally in Ramlilamaidan in Delhi, offices and educational institutes remained closed and vehicles were off the roads in the states hit by the bandh that drew a mixed response.
The bandh was called by 21 opposition parties that included the Congress, its allies and the Left.
Scores of Congress activists were taken into police custody in several states for forcibly trying to enforce the bandh, according to reports from the state capitals.
While the Congress and other opposition parties claimed the bandh was a success, the ruling BJP claimed it was a flop. Bihar witnessed widespread arson, vandalism and disruption of rail and road traffic. Burning tyres were placed on railway tracks in the old Patna city area disrupting movement of trains.
The BJP held bandh supporters responsible for the death of a two-year-old girl in Jehanabad while being taken to a hospital but the local administration denied the allegation that the ambulance carrying her was stopped by the protesters. Union minister and senior BJP leader Giriraj Singh termed the bandh as an "electoral stunt" while his party colleague Ram KripalYadav claimed the shutdown was a "flop".
In the national capital, normal life remained unaffected with offices, schools and colleges functioning normally and vehicles plying on the roads.
Left leaders including CPI-M chief SitaramYechury courted arrest at Parliament Street police station.
In states like Kerala, Karnataka, Bihar, Odisha and Arunachal Pradesh life was hit by the shutdown, but Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Mizoram remained largely unaffected. The Left observed a 12-hour strike in Kerala and West Bengal instead of the 9 am to 3 pm shutdown called by the Congress and other parties.
The dawn-to-dusk hartal, called by the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF in Kerala and Congress-headed opposition UDF was near total and passed off peacefully. The hartal hit normal life and both public and private transport buses and autorickshaws stayed off the roads.
Addressing the protest rally, Rahul Gandhi alleged hatred was being spread and the country being divided under the rule of Prime Minister NarendraModi. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was also present.
Former prime ministerManmohan Singh said it was time for all opposition parties to shed their differences and move forward unitedly "to save" sovereignty and democracy. The BJP defended the rise in oil prices, attributing it to global factors, and accused the Congress and other opposition parties of resorting to violence during the bandh as people did not support their call. Prasad claimed that the people understood the government's point of view and refused to support the 'Bharat Bandh' call.

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