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Strikes against fuel prices disrupt life across India
In India, an opposition-led strike over rises in fuel prices disrupted life in several major cities on Monday. Flights were grounded in Mumbai and Kolkata, while protesters attacked buses, blocked roads with burning tyres and organised sit-down protests on inter-city railway links.
Schools and businesses closed down for the one-day strike, which was called by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and leftist parties to protest against the Congress-led government's reform programme.
BJP spokesperson Ravi Pratap Rudy told RFI his party was not opposed to reforms per se, but questioned rather the timing of driving up prices when inflation was already high and half the population was living in poverty.
"It doesn't make any sense," he told RFI. "Economic reforms that should have taken place have been left on the backburner."
In New Delhi, the government said it would not be bullied into reneging on reform promises, and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee insisted there was "no question" of rolling back on the fuel price hikes.
The government scrapped petrol subsidies last month, and also announced an across-the-board rise in the price of other fuels as a key part of its strategy to rein in a yawning fiscal deficit.
Rudy rejects that the government is making meaningful moves.
"This government is for piecemeal action, which is not good enough to bring in reforms," he said.
The greatest impact of the strike was felt in states with non-Congress administrations, like West Bengal, Karnataka and Bihar.
The Bangalore software sector was also virtually shut down. Hundreds of software firms, including giants like Infosys and Wipro, told employees to stay at home.
In Kolkata, demonstrators took to the streets and held sit-down protests to block key intersections, but there were no reports of major violence.
"Normally, I'm against strike action, but this is different," said Sriparan Bose.
"Inflation is already hurting a lot of people, and the fuel rises are only going to make things worse. The government needs to rethink this," he added.
Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst at Delhi University, said the strike was a significant test of the commitment of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government to push through tough reforms.
Any rollback now "would be an erosion of their authority," he said.