NEW DELHI - India's opposition parties have responded to a recent government hike in fuel prices by backing a nationwide strike. The action ground the country's economy to a day-long halt in many areas, as government critics fanned popular frustration about the economy.
Despite scorching summer heat, protesters shouted slogans criticizing the ruling Congress Party, about a week after the steepest price increase in years.
The Bharatiya Janata Party took the lead in organizing Thursday's strike. Shops, offices and schools all across the country remained closed. In deference to widespread road and train stoppages, a number of offices and schools declared a day off or told employees to work from home.
Janta Dal, a senior leader from the regional opposition party says the government needs to listen to people's frustration. He says his party is working closely with the BJP to make the strike successful. Dal says the party is working to “wake up," the inefficient government of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh."
Singh and his Congress Party-led coalition have been hobbled in recent years by a string of corruption scandals as well as inflation, economic stagnation and resistance from key regional allies because of contentious economic reform issues. Last week's sudden fuel price increase sparked anger among many Indians who already view the Congress Party government as ineffective.
BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman says the strike is a last resort and us meant to rouse the government into action.
"We find this government being insensitive, unaccountable and not even wanting to answer legitimate questions raised in the parliament," said Sitharaman. "And therefore, we, the opposition, thought that there is no other way than to literally come on to the street and say 'Government wake up, you're being indifferent'."
Congress Party leaders say there are broader reasons for the economic trends causing frustration in India. They cite the rise in global market prices for food and fuel as a key driver of domestic inflation and point to the economic crisis in the eurozone as a factor in India's dropping growth rates, as well as the plunge in value of the nation's currency, the rupee.