As the Congress-led Opposition led a nationwide strike to protest the increase in petrol and diesel prices on Monday, and resolved to keep up the pressure on the government with more protests in the days to come, the Centre ruled out any cut in fuel prices.
If the Congress accused the Narendra Modi government of Rs 11 trillion "loot" of taxes collected from common people by keeping petrol and diesel prices high when international prices were low, a top government official said neither the Centre nor some states had the appetite to stomach revenue loss from a cut.
The official said any cut in excise duty, which the central government levies, will impact fiscal deficit. The official, who did not wish to be identified, pointed out the examples of states such as Bihar, Kerala, and Punjab, which are not in a position to cut sales tax (or VAT). Kerala and Punjab have non-BJP governments, while Bihar has a Janata Dal (United)-BJP coalition.
The official said the government anticipates that international oil prices, which together with a drop in the value of rupee, has been fuelling the fuel price rise to record levels, will moderate in coming days to take the pressure off. Prices in Delhi, where rates are the cheapest among all Metros and most state capitals because of lower VAT, saw petrol touch an all-time high of Rs 80.73 per litre Monday while diesel scaled to new high of Rs 72.83 a litre. The official said consumers will have to pay for the fuel they use.
If the BJP-ruled Rajasthan had reduced VAT on petrol and diesel on the eve of the 'Bharat bandh' call, Andhra Pradesh Assembly passed a resolution on Monday to reduce prices of diesel and petrol by Rs 2. Introducing the resolution, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu supported the protests and demanded the Centre to cut taxes on petrol and diesel.
A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the so called 'mahagatbandhan' didn't present any challenge to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress said 20 other political parties supported the nationwide strike.
If the impact of the ‘Bharat bandh’ was significant in some states, normal life remained largely uninterrupted in others. The impact was not uniform within states either. Normal life was disrupted in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, while it remained normal in Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad. Of the states, Bihar witnessed several incidents of violence and the impact of the bandh was significant. Bandh disrupted normal life in Kerala, some cities of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress leadership said it was the first in its history after independence that the Congress had given a call of a nationwide strike. It said the strike's impact was significant. The BJP disputed this and also said the events of the day had exposed Opposition disunity.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, led the protests in Delhi, along with Opposition leaders, from Rajghat. Top Left leaders held a separate protest at Jantar Mantar.
The BJP said only 16 parties, and not 21 as claimed by the Congress, participated in the bandh and their combined strength in the Lok Sabha was just 87 members. No Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party members were present with the Congress chief at Rajghat, but they held protests in Uttar Pradesh. The Trinamool Congress and Aam Aadmi Party sent their representatives to Rajghat, but didn't support the bandh in West Bengal and Delhi.
UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Rashtriya Lok Dal's Jayant Chaudhary and others joined the protest in Delhi. Singh said the Modi government has done a lot which is not in interest of nation, and has crossed limits, Singh urged Opposition parties to shed their differences and unite to save democracy in country. Sonia Gandhi didn't speak, allowing Rahul Gandhi to take the centrestage.
Industry associations said Karnataka lost Rs 40 billion due to Monday's strike, while informal estimates in Odisha said the loss could be up to Rs 15 billion.