Bharat Bandh called by the Congress to protest rising fuel prices evoked mixed response across the country amid reports of violence from some states like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat and death of a child in Bihar due to lack of access to an ambulance.
The Congress said the bandh had been successful and the united protest by the Opposition parties had sent out a strong signal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that people were now “going to teach him a lesson”.
Although the Congress had given a clarion call to the entire Opposition to join the bandh, BSP and SP leaders did not participate in the Delhi agitation led by Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The Congress later dismissed the absence of SP and BSP leaders, saying they had chosen to agitate in their respective states.
Representatives of 16 Opposition parties joined Gandhi first at Rajghat where they paid tributes and then in the walk to Ram Lila Grounds, where the assembly later staged a sit in.
Gandhi led the walk after he had offered the sacred waters from Mansarovar Lake at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial on Monday morning.
Addressing a gathering of Opposition leaders comprising his mother Sonia Gandhi, former PM Manmohan Singh, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Loktantrik Janata Dal president Sharad Payad, Gandhi said a united Opposition would unseat the BJP.
Launching a comprehensive attack on the BJP, Manmohan Singh also urged all Opposition parties to sidestep their narrow differences and interests and unite to dislodge the BJP in the larger interest of democracy and unity.
“Time to dislodge the BJP is nearing. All Opposition parties must rise above their small differences to defeat the BJP in the interest of national unity and democracy,” Singh said, adding that the Modi-led government had crossed all limits of “anti-people policies”.
Gandhi later took the attack on Modi forward, saying: “The entire Opposition is gathered here in a strong message to the PM. We promise you from here that together we will defeat the BJP (in 2019).”
He accused the BJP of dividing India. “Modi says nothing has happened in 70 years. Indeed what he has done in four years has never happened in 70 years. Wherever you see, one Indian is fighting against the other. Wherever you go, they divide people. One religion against another, one caste against another and one state against another,” he said.
The Congress later claimed the bandh was a success, saying the death of a two-year-old in Bihar was not due to the Bandh call. “The Bihar administration has also clarified that,” Congress media chief Randeep Surjewala said.
On why SP and BSP were absent, Surjewala said: “In fact four parties were absent: CPI, CPM, SP and BSP, as they wanted to hold their own protests which we welcomed. This issue is not an issue of political one upmanship. This is a people’s issue.”
The Congress is demanding reduction of excise duties on petrol and diesel and said the government had made Rs11 lakh crore from 12 excise hikes on petrol and diesel in the last four years.