The positive response of shopkeepers in almost all cities and towns both big and small to the Congress-sponsored bandh on Friday has sort of boosted the Oppositions morale. The party,which seemed to have given up the fight against Chief Minister Narendra Modi,has now decided to interpret this as a referendum of the urban middle class,though there was hardly any publicity on the exact reasons for the bandh.
Interestingly,not only the traditional Congress segments but also business establishments in the BJP bastions of Ahmedabad like Ellisbridge and Khadia and Modis constituency,Maninagar,had closed down,apart from BJP strongholds of Rajkot,Amreli and other parts of Saurashtra.
Congress leaders said that the response was unexpected even for them.
In Ahmedabad,managements of several educational institutions,run by trusts controlled by BJP supporters,remained closed on Friday under pressure from students allegedly owing allegiance to the Congress. This happened despite BJP MLAs in Ahmedabad,Rajkot,Surat appealing to shopkeepers to keep their establishments open.
Ever since Modi became the CM,the Congress had reportedly never mustered enough courage to burn his effigies. It was for the first time that Modis effigies were burnt in the BJP bastion of Surat,Navsari,Valsad,Rajkot,Amreli and Vadodara.
Though the Congress alleged that the state government was using its machinery to prevent people from taking part in the bandh,the police were nowhere seen to be harsh either on the Congress workers or shopkeepers.
However,hundreds of second-rank Congress leaders were detained.
Activist Gautam Thakar claimed that it was a spontaneous bandh and the Congress only provided an opportunity to the urban middle class to vent out their anger against the state government. He said that this indicated the weakening of Modis influence over the urban middle class. According to Thakar,the police may have gone soft on Congress workers because of jailed IPS officer DG Vanzaras letter,based on which the Opposition has demanded Modis resignation.
Thakar is not sure if this support will translate into votes for the Congress.
State Congress president Arjun Modhwadia said that the response to the bandh was a show of discontentment of people against the politics of corruption and encounters.
Activist Harinesh Pandya said that people were feeling uneasy about the state government and wanted an opportunity to exhibit.
Gordhan Zadaphia of Gujarat Parivartan Party,who had extended support to the bandh,said that the urban middle class had supported the BJP for the last two decades. But it was for the first time that they exhibited their support to the Congress. It was a spontaneous reaction to the gagging of democracy. It indicated people have lost fear of the Modi government and were ready to confront it, Zadaphia said.
Jayant Patel alias Bosky of the National Congress Party,a Congress ally at the Centre and state,said that people were frustrated with Modis politics and hence,supported the bandh.
Business organisations,however,refused to comment on the bandh. Secretary of Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry Bimal D Parikh said,We can comment on business related issues; bandh is a political issue.