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Why is India shutting down in protest today?

By Maria Thomas

Most opposition parties in India are protesting today (Sept. 10).

In a show of strength, they have called for a Bharat Bandh (“India shut”), wherein educational institutions, merchants, and transport services in several states will remain closed. They are angry that fuel prices have been surging ceaselessly over the past few months and the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government hasn’t done much to tackle the situation.

In the past few months, fuel prices have spiked across the country amid rising global crude oil rates and a free-falling rupee. Since India imports almost 80% of its fuel needs, expensive crude oil affects India badly, further weakening the domestic currency, which has already fallen to a record low of Rs72.58 against the US dollar on Sept. 10. Petrol and diesel prices have hit a new high of Rs80.73 and Rs72.83 per litre respectively in Delhi.

Spearheaded by the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress party, the shut down began at 9am and is being backed by 21 other opposition parties. This includes the Janata Dal-Secular, Samajwadi Party, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Yet, key parties like Trinamool Congress and the Shiv Sena are not participating.

Central and state taxes make up almost half of the cost of petrol and diesel, yet a government official told the Press Trust of India last week that an excise duty cut was not on the cards. Responding to a query on the matter on Sept. 08, India’s oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan said the economy should avoid a “knee-jerk reaction.”

So far, the protests have been largely peaceful across India, with only stray stone-pelting and sloganeering being reported in Mumbai and other cities.