The Congress, which called for a Bharat Bandh on Monday to protest against the rising fuel prices, is also looking at it as a show of strength and an opportunity to consolidate its position as the principal opposition party.
In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress is also keen on capitalising on the unrest in the middle class against the rising prices of essential commodities to up the ante against the Narendra Modi-led government.
The party’s state president Ashok Chavan on Sunday said that the bandh call had so far elicited support from the Nationalist Congress Party, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, Peasants and Workers’ Party, Samajwadi Party, People’s Republican Party, Republican Party of India’s Gawai faction, and former NDA constituent Swabhimaani Shetkari Sanghathana.
In a further bid to isolate the BJP in the state, the Congress has also reached out to the saffron party’s key ally Shiv Sena. But sources said that though the Sena’s leadership is averse to joining a Congress-led protest, the Uddhav Thackeray’s party has put up hoardings across Mumbai targeting the Modi government over the rising fuel prices.
“The protest on Monday is not a political one. We are raising concerns of the common man and would like everyone to join in. I’ve personally contacted Sena’s Sanjay Raut (party’s MP) twice on the issue, but they are yet to respond,” said Chavan.
On Sunday, Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam visited various market places in suburban Mumbai along with party workers to appeal to retailers and traders to observe the bandh on Monday. “The bandh will be observed from 9 am to 3 pm. We’re urging various market and trade unions to support it,” said Nirupam.
Party insiders, however, said that a majority of the associations and unions are reluctant to publicly oppose the ruling party. While the Congress has reached out to key rickshaw and taxi union leaders in the city, sources confirmed that most of them have declined active participation. “We are having difficulty mobilising support from the unions in the city,” said a Congress leader from Mumbai, on condition of anonymity.
While both Chavan and Nirupam will lead the protest in Mumbai, the party’s state chief said that senior leaders will also take to the streets in other districts. The Congress had earlier raised the demand that the petroleum products should also be brought under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime. With the government already considering the option, Chavan said on Sunday that the party’s immediate demand was for the government to slash the central excise duty and the state-levied value added tax and cess on petroleum products to bring down retail prices. Chavan has appealed to his party workers to ensure that the bandh was carried out in a peaceful manner. He said, “There should be no damage to public or private property,” he said.
Maharashtra levies the most tax on petroleum products. In Mumbai, the retail price of petrol has risen to Rs 87 per litre, while that of diesel is Rs 76 per litre.