DELHI: India observed a nationwide shutdown on Monday which paralyzed normal life. Called by the main opposition party, the Congress Party, on the issue of the steep hike in the price of petroleum products, the strike received the support of around 24 opposition parties, making it one of the first major political mobilizations against the Narenda Modi regime in the past four and half years.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has failed to deliver on promises made to the country. The rupee’s value has never been so weak in the past 70 years. Fuel prices have hit the roof. The price of cooking gas has become 800 rupees per unit,” said Rahul Gandhi, president of the Congress party, in a public gathering that he addressed along with several opposition leaders in New Delhi.
“The country is being divided... the country is tired. The youth of the country are tired,” Gandhi added.
Addressing the gathering, former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh called upon the opposition “to unite and keep aside their differences and work together to fight the BJP government.”
The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) terms the opposition campaign as “a desperate attempt to do something together.
“The opposition parties tried to gang up against the government earlier also but they failed desperately in garnering people’s support. We agree that oil prices are high but the government is bound by the market mechanism,” said Sudesh Verma, the national spokesperson of the BJP.
Verma told Arab News: “Money is needed for developmental activities and people appreciate our efforts in that direction.”
The BJP’s alliance partner, Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP), pooh-poohed the opposition unity and called the shutdown “an attempt to play with the sentiments of the people.”
Ajay Kumar, spokesperson of the LJP, said: “The opposition suffers from deep inner contradictions as they are divided among themselves on the issue of leadership so their dream of defeating the BJP in the 2019 general elections is a mirage.”
The shutdown and the opposition unity come just a day after the BJP’s national executive meeting, in which the party vowed “to rule the country for the next 50 years and declared Narendra Modi an invincible leader.”
However, political experts see the nationwide strike “as an attempt to wrest the political narrative from the BJP and challenge the political hegemony of the BJP.”
“With the nationwide agitation, the opposition is trying to address the real issues of bread and butter. In the last four years the topics of price rise and inflation have got overshadowed in the debate on religion and other polarizing issues”, said Professor Apoorvanand of Delhi University.
“The fact that many opposition parties joined the Congress’ call for protest shows that politics are undergoing an interesting churn and in time a new alliance might emerge on the horizon,” said Apoorvanand.
He told Arab News that if such an opposition alliance comes through it would be a great challenge to the hegemony of the BJP and it is the only way to counter the political dominance of the ruling Hindu right-wing party. “A fragmented opposition is a boon for Modi,” he said.