New Delhi/Mumbai: Business was hit, roads deserted and train traffic disrupted Thursday as large parts of India shut down to protest the hike in petrol prices, leaving the Manmohan Singh-led government battling a surge of unpopularity on a day that economic growth slumped to its lowest in nine years.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government found itself isolated as the left and the right opposition called for a 12-hour nationwide strike against the May 23 hike of Rs.7 plus in petrol prices.
Many thousands were stranded at rail stations, airports and bus terminals and many others couldn’t get to work as the strike called by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its constituents in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as well as the Left parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and others took effect.
The shutdown saw street protests and sporadic violence in most states, from Jammu and Kashmir to Karnataka and from Tripura to Maharashtra. Roads and train tracks were blockaded and some buses were torched.
The shutdown was complete in some states where the governments backed the call against inflation and increasing prices. Like in Uttar Pradesh, where the ruling SP was amongst those who called the protest.
Ditto in Bihar, where the JD-U is in power, Odisha, with a BJD government in place, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, ruled by the BJP, and Tripura, where the Left Front endorsed the strike.
The situation was similar in other states ruled by the opposition, be it Karnataka or Himachal Pradesh, where Chief Minister P.K. Dhumal walked to office in a mark of protest.
The shutdown call struck a chord even in Congress-ruled states.
In Andhra Pradesh, the shutdown was partial in the capital Hyderabad but near total in the districts with shops, petrol bunks, businesses and educational institutions closed.
The Congress government waged a lone battle as the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and YSR Congress Party supported the BJP and the Left.
In Congress-ruled Assam too, the response was total.
India’s financial capital Mumbai was paralysed as were many parts of Maharashtra. Despite stringent security taken by the Congress-led government, there were four incidents of government buses being stoned.
The shutdown was supported by anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and even Mumbai’s famed ‘dabbawallas’, who did not provide their regular tiffin delivery services.
In states like Meghalaya, the response was muted and Kerala reported business as usual.
Though the day passed off relatively peacefully, opposition leaders quoted arrest in several places.
In Delhi, Marxist leaders Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja of the Communist Party of India (CPI) were detained.
“This (arrest) is part of the big struggle against petrol price rise… We will protest till there is complete rollback,” added CPI-M’s Brinda Karat.
Added Asom Gana Parishad’s Apurba Mumar Bhattacharjyya in Guwahati: “The support of the common people is the expression of anger and frustration of those hit by the price rise of essential commodities.”
As if in echo, autorickhsaw driver Ranbir said in Delhi that politicians were not alone in this cause.
Hitting out at the government for prices that made his day-to-day living more precarious, he said: “There is genuine anger among the common people. I have always voted for the Congress. In the next election, I shall not vote for the Congress.”
It was a tough day for the government. As the strike continued, it was announced that economic growth had slumped to 5.3 percent in January-March quarter, the slowest in nine years. For the 2011-12 financial year, GDP growth slipped to just 6.5 percent.
Blaming the opposition parties, Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury said such shutdowns were “outdated”.
“The common man, including fruit sellers, flower sellers… they have suffered loss in sales. It would have been better if the opposition had made suggestions on how to deal with the challenge,” she said.
Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin
Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.
The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.
Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.
Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.
Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.
Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told
The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.
The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.
Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.
“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.
DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.
The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.
The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.
But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.
Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.
It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.
Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus
New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.
Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.
The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.
According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.