News / Asia

India Hit by Nationwide Strike Over Economic Reforms

Demonstrators from the Samajwadi Party, a regional political party, shout slogans after they stopped a passenger train during a protest near Allahabad railway station, September 20, 2012. Demonstrators from the Samajwadi Party, a regional political party, shout slogans after they stopped a passenger train during a protest near Allahabad railway station, September 20, 2012.
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Demonstrators from the Samajwadi Party, a regional political party, shout slogans after they stopped a passenger train during a protest near Allahabad railway station, September 20, 2012.
Demonstrators from the Samajwadi Party, a regional political party, shout slogans after they stopped a passenger train during a protest near Allahabad railway station, September 20, 2012.
Anjana Pasricha
In India, a day-long nationwide strike called by political parties from both the left and right to protest a fuel price hike and other economic reforms has disrupted life.  The strike comes as the government grapples with political uncertainty.         

Tens of thousands of slogan-shouting protesters marched through streets in major cities, shops closed and transport services were disrupted in some places. 

But, although cities in opposition strongholds such as Bangalore and Kolkata virtually came to halt.  But businesses remained open in other cities, such as the capital, New Delhi, and the financial hub, Mumbai. 

At rallies, leaders of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and Left parties shared the same stage as they denounced a recent government decision to hike diesel prices and allow foreign retail chains such as Walmart to open outlets in India.

The protesters want the government to rollback these two decisions - the most controversial of a series of sweeping economic reforms announced last week. Allies of the Congress-led government also backed the stir. 

Retail reforms

Murli Manohar Joshi, a senior leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, says the entry of supermarket chains such as Walmart will open the floodgates to cheap Chinese goods in India. He says all poor people including farmers, traders and shopkeepers will suffer.

Those opposed to the retail reforms say they will result in widespread jobs losses and the closure of millions of mom-and-pop stores which dominate India. 

Economists say the reforms will revive the flagging economy and boost growth. Political analysts have praised them as bold moves by a government which, until recently, was accused of policy inertia.

Weakened ruling party

But the Congress Party, which heads the ruling alliance, is politically isolated in pushing the reform agenda. Its largest ally has pulled out of the government, reducing it to a minority.

That has turned the focus on how and if the government will survive until general elections in 2014.    

The government appears unfazed and is standing firm.

“We have support of enough members of parliament and we have support of enough friendly parties, both within and outside the coalition," said Salman Khurshid, India’s law minister. "We should not worry about this. Important thing, what we should now be concentrating on is, what this country needs. have tried to give to this country what will give us massive strides in growth."

Political analysts say opposition parties will press ahead with their campaign against the reforms as they seek to exploit popular anger ahead of a series of state elections, later this year and national elections.

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