Fuel On Fire: Bharat bandh begins with protests, train blockades, Rahul Gandhi joins protest in Delhi

Congress and 21 political parties are observing a ‘Bharat Bandh’ across the country on Monday to protest the steep rise of petrol and diesel prices, causing hardships to the common man and the poor.

Although the parties and some non-BJP state governments had promised not to inconvenience people and ensure supply of essential services, the shutdown is expected to affect normal life in many parts of the country.

While Karnataka and Odisha governments declared a holiday owing to the bandh, the Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government said there would be rallies without a strike.

Police to keep strict vigil in Jaipur, Jodhpur
Rajasthan Police asks district superintendents of police and police commissioners in Jaipur and Jodhpur to keep strict vigil.

Special director general of police NRK Reddy said as part of precautionary measure, four companies of Rajasthan Armed Constabulary (RAC) have been deployed in Jaipur, one each in Baran and Bharatpur and one small platoon Ajmer have also deployed.

Meanwhile, Congress-led opposition kicked off the Bharat bandh with protest marches and train blockades in several parts of the country on Monday against the steep rise in petrol and diesel prices and the depreciation of the rupee.

Congress, CPI and CPM workers held marches in Andhra Pradesh’s Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam. In Telangana, Congress members held protests in Yadadri Bhuvanagiri district’s Bhongir and Musheerabad bus depot in Hyderabad.

Bus services of North Eastern Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NEKRTC) were inoperational while the grand old party’s activists held a protest in Odisha capital Bhubaneswar and blocked a train in Sambalpur. Mumbai Congress unit chief Sanjay Nirupam and several followers were detained by police.

Although the parties and some non-BJP state governments had promised not to inconvenience people and ensure supply of essential services, the shutdown is expected to affect normal life in many parts of the country.

Congress had on Sunday claimed the support of 21 political parties and a number of chambers of commerce and traders’ associations for the bandh against the BJP government’s failure to take action to reduce the prices of petrol and diesel and reduce hardships to the common man.

The BJP has accused Congress of shedding “crocodile tears” over rising fuel prices, saying the opposition party gave protection to the “price rise mafia” when it was in power and is now “exploiting” the masses.

A host of major opposition parties — the Left, SP, RJD, NCP, DMK — have supported the bandh and are expected to observe it in several states.

The Left parties — the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-Liberation, RSP and Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUC) — have given a separate call for bandh on the same day over the hike in fuel prices, the problem of farmers and unemployment issues.

The Congress has demanded that petrol and diesel should be brought under GST, by which oil prices could drop by about Rs 15 to Rs 18. Petrol and diesel prices set new records Sunday when petrol price was raised by 12 paise a litre and diesel by ‎10 paise per litre.

Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken told reporters in New Delhi that the BJP government kept on raising excise duty on fuel even as international crude oil prices have come down.

“Between 2014 and now, excise duty on petrol has risen by 211.7 per cent and 433 per cent on diesel. The excise duty on petrol was Rs 9.2 per litre in 2014 and it has gone up to Rs 19.48 per litre. Similarly, the excise duty on diesel was Rs 3.46 per litre and today it stands at Rs 15.33 per litre,” he said.

The government has collected Rs 11 crore as excise duty by “burdening” people and “robbing them”, the Congress leader alleged.

Uttar Pradesh
In Lucknow, chief of the Uttar Pradesh unit of Congress, Raj Babbar said the BJP government was not concerned about the sufferings of the common man and only cared for the rights of a few influential people.

“People from across the country will come out of their houses on Monday to support the bandh. It is a campaign to protect the rights of the common man. Inflation and soaring prices of fuel have made people’s lives difficult. We will try to draw the attention of the ruling party towards the people’s problems,” he said.

In view of Congress’ Bharat Bandh call, the Samajwadi Party has cancelled all meetings scheduled for Monday.

“The party members have been asked to stage a protest against inflation and corruption. They should support demands of farmers across the state,” SP’s chief spokesman Rajendra Chaudhary said.

Congress workers are expected to stage demonstrations and hold marches in Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Varanasi, Agra on Monday while party leaders and workers took out a procession in Meerut on Sunday and appealed to the people to support their bandh call.

In Maharashtra, the BJP’s temperamental alliance partner Shiv Sena spurned the Congress’ request to participate in the bandh saying it would remain neutral. But Raj Thackeray’s MNS announced its support for the bandh. In a statement, Thackeray said MNS will not only back but also actively participate in the bandh.

The Trinamool Congress in West Bengal has backed shutdown, but ruled out its participation in the state. The party said it differed on the issue of strike with the pro-bandh political parties, but promised to take out protest marches across the state.

The West Bengal government has promised to take all measures to maintain the public utility services on Monday. Traders were asked to keep their establishments open on Monday and assured of all protective measures, a senior minister in the Mamata Banerjee cabinet said.

In Karnataka, the JD(S), which runs a coalition government with the Congress, has extended support to the bandh. A host of organisations such as Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, KSRTC, BMTC, Ola and Uber Drivers and Owners Association, Private Taxi Owners Association, Tours and Travels Taxi Association, Auto Drivers’ Association have also decided to support the bandh.

Odisha school and mass education department has announced that all schools in the State will remain closed on September 10 in view of the Bharat Bandh. Odisha school and mass education secretary PK Mohapatra said the step has been taken as a precautionary measure.

The Odisha government has meanwhile asked all the secretaries of departments, district collectors to instruct their subordinate officials to come to office by 9.30 AM.

The Odisha unit of Congress exhorted all supporters and general public for support to make the bandh successful as a mark of protest against the rise in prices of petrol and diesel. PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik urged the State government to adjourn the Assembly till 3 PM tomorrow in view of the bandh.

On Friday, the BJD had launched a three-day state-wide agitation against the fuel price hike, which ended on Sunday.

The Goa unit of the Congress has said it will not take part in the bandh to avoid inconvenience to local people ahead of the Ganesh festival.

Vijay Bhike, North Goa Congress district president said the party’s workers will instead hold peaceful protests and distribute pamphlets at petrol pumps as part of their protests.

In Assam, Congress leaders and party workers in Assam carried out a march in Guwahati on Sunday to ‘create awareness’ and seek public support for the shutdown.

Led by party in-charge for the state Harish Rawat and Assam unit chief Ripun Bora, Congress workers shouted slogans against the BJP for failing to control spiralling prices of petroleum products.

“We are taking to the street on Sunday to appeal to all to support us on Monday. People should show resentment against rising prices by downing shutters of their establishments,” Rawat said.

A senior Assam Police officer informed that all necessary steps have been taken to ensure that the ‘bandh’ passes off without glitch and common people do not face any discomfort.

In Tripura where the Congress has been marginalised, the party said its bandh will be peaceful

“Our movement will be peaceful unless we are restrained from picketing by the state administration,” said Congress state chief Birajit Sinha.

The Left Front, which lost power to BJP this March, will also hold a 12-hour strike on Monday against the NDA government at Centre for failing to curb fuel price hike, unemployment, farmers’ problems etc.

“We urge people from all sections parties to join the protest,” said CPM leader Haripada Das.

The state’s BJP-led coalition government has issued a circular making it mandatory for all state employees to be present in their offices on Monday.

In Haryana’s Hisar, police said it was prepared to maintain law and order condition in the district. Police spokesperson Harish Bharadwaj said, “Under the leadership of deputy superintendent of police (DSP), all the police teams will keep strict vigil. We have not received any letter regarding the closure of any school so far, but there will be proper security force deployment will be arranged in front of every education institute.”

Superintendent of police (SP), Hisar Shiv Charan will closely monitor every situation and no one will be allowed to breach the law and order condition, he said.

The Bihar government has sounded a high alert in all districts ahead of the Bharat Bandh. Six political parties, including the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), have extended their support to bandh called by the Congress.

Though the Congress has just two Lok Sabha and one Rajya Sabha MP from the state, besides 27 MLAs in the Bihar legislative assembly, the party has geared up to make the bandh a success with the support of RJD and other opposition parties, which would demonstrate the strength of a united opposition.

ADG (law & order) Alok Raj, who is also holding the charge of ADG (rail), said that an advisory has been issued to all the concerned officers, with clear instruction that there should not be any problem to the common man and essential services should be affected due to the bandh.

“Action will be taken against those forcefully enforcing bandh or targeting railway and commuter services. All the SPs have been asked to take proper precautionary measures. Adequate reinforcement has been sent to different parts of the state. Public property should not be targeted, as ultimately it affects the common people only,” he added.

Several private schools have already announced closure in view of the bandh. As Railways often becomes the soft target of bandh supporters, the Government rail police (GRP) have beefed up arrangements at railway stations.

The Rajasthan police department has asked all superintendents of police and commissioners to keep a strict vigil in their respective areas.

“In order to maintain peace, we have contacted all the SP’s and commissioners and told them that no rally should be allowed in their areas,” said NRK Reddy, special director general of police.

“As a part of precautionary measure, four companies of Rajasthan Armed Constabularies (RAC) in Jaipur, one constabulary each in Baran and Bharatpur and one small platoon to Ajmer have been deployed,” he said.

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