While Monday’s Bharat bandh against the steep rise in fuel prices received mixed response in Maharashtra, the Congress has taken heart from the response it got from the trader community, which is seen as a loyal votebank of the ruling BJP.
Responding to Congress’ bandh call, markets in several parts of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region remained closed. On Sunday, some Congress leaders, including Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam, reached out to various market and trade associations to participate in the protest.
With the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) also joining hands with the Congress for the bandh, wholesale agriculture markets in Navi Mumbai and markets in Thane, where the NCP enjoys substantial clout, remained shut.
Maharashtra Congress President Ashok Chavan said on Monday: “The traders voluntarily shut shop in support of the bandh. We thank them.”
Nirupam said: “Their participation shows that there is immense discontent within the community over rising fuel prices and prices of essential commodities.”
With transport unions refusing to support the bandh, mobility within the city remained largely unaffected.
While BJP’s ally Shiv Sena dubbed Congress’ bandh in Mumbai a failure, Nirupam countered it with a barb. “Even shops near Dadar’s Shiv Sena Bhavan remained shut on Monday,” he said.
But some traders from the Jain community kept their establishments closed on account of the fifth day of the holy period of Paryushan.
The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena garnered more attention than the Congress itself. Metro rail services between Andheri and Ghatkopar were paralysed for some time in the morning owing to protests staged by MNS workers who also protested at places along the Eastern Express Highway.
Congress’ most talked about protest was a rail roko at Andheri station in the morning. Both Chavan and Nirupam were present for the protest. They were later detained by the police and they spent three hours at DN Nagar police station.
Senior Congress leaders visited various districts to hold demonstrations. NCP leaders Supriya Sule, Jitendra Awhad, and Nawab Malik, and others staged demonstrations across the state. With the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Peasants and Workers Party also participating in the bandh, the impact was also felt in tribal pockets of Palghar, Raigad and Panvel.
Playing down Shiv Sena’s criticism, Chavan said the bandh in Maharashtra was “100 per cent” successful. “There was no violence anywhere,” he said. Countering the Shiv Sena, Nirupam said: “There was a notion that only the Shiv Sena can stage a successful bandh in Mumbai. We’ve shown today that this is not the case. While Shiv Sena’s bandh is almost always violent, we’ve also shown that you can stage a bandh without indulging in violence.”
Targetting the Modi government, Nirupam said the rising petrol and diesel prices were a “government-induced crisis”. He said the Modi government had increased the central excise duty on petrol by 211 per cent and that on diesel by 419 per cent since it took over reins in 2014.
Chavan criticised Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s statement, where the latter had linked the rise in prices to the rise in crude oil prices in the global markets. “It shows that they are shirking responsibility,” Chavan said.
Monday’s bandh also saw a war of words between the Shiv Sena and the Congress. While Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut termed the bandh a complete failure, Maharashtra Congress President Ashok Chavan hit back saying the bandh had exposed the Shiv Sena’s “real face”.
“It is clear to all now that the Shiv Sena is power hungry,” Chavan said. Referring to a post being circulated on social media, he added: “People are now saying that Shiv Sena’s tiger has stopped roaring. These days it only barks.”
Raut had said the “Opposition had woken up too late”.