Schools, shops and government offices were shut in some Indian states
as protesters blocked road and rail traffic as part of a one-day
nationwide strike against sweeping economic reforms announced by the
government last week.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), joined by smaller
parties from both the political left and right, called for Thursday’s
strike to protest against a 14 per cent hike in heavily subsidised
diesel prices, and a government decision that opens the door to foreign
supermarket chains to invest in India.
The measures, part of a package of big-bang economic reforms aimed at
boosting a sharply slowing economy, have triggered a political
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's biggest ally pulled out of his shaky
coalition on Tuesday, raising the risk of an early election.
Bangalore, India's IT and outsourcing hub, was hard hit by the
strike, but in Mumbai, the country's financial capital, banks and
offices were open as usual. In New Delhi, shops were shut in BJP
constituencies and there were fewer cars on the road, but the central
business district was untouched.
The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) had forecasted that 50
million people would participate in the protest, with large
demonstrations planned in the capital New Delhi and scores of other
Many small business owners and workers fear that the
arrival of largescale supermarket chains will lead to drastic job losses
as India's supply chains and shopping habits are transformed.
'People are angry'
companies will destroy the economic and social fabric of the country
and will adversely impact traders, transporters, farmers and other
sections of retail trade," CAIT secretary-general Praveen Khandelwal
Singh has been buffeted by reaction to the retail reforms and a sharp
rise in diesel prices, with a key coalition party quitting the
government and demanding the policies are reversed.
supporting us in this strike because they are angry at the recent
decisions of the government," said Prakash Javedkar, a spokesperson of
"The prime minister must resign and we are pressing for this."
arrival in India of international chains such as Walmart, Carrefour and
Tesco is expected to herald a consumer revolution with shoppers moving
from small, neighbourhood stores to large, out-of-town supermarkets.
business will suffer very much. People are going to go to big stores
because they can get everything in one place," Surinder Kumar Arora, who
operates a family-run grocer in south Delhi's Bhogal market, told the
AFP news agency.
"We want to go on strike because shopkeepers in India are going to
lose business," said fellow trader Deepak Sethi, 35, whose store opened
45 years ago.
"These big companies can attract customers by
selling at cost prices. That means people here are going to lose jobs.
Shops like ours will be hit the most."
Singh and many industry
leaders argue that a modern retail system would improve value and choice
for Indian consumers, create new jobs and enable farmers to reduce
But the government, weakened by the worst quarterly GDP
figures in three years and a series of corruption scandals, faces a
major challenge to push through the reforms and boost the economy before
elections due in 2014.
Millions of lorry and bus drivers are
also expected to strike on Thursday over a 12-per cent hike in
subsidised diesel prices as the government tries to tackle its widening