KOLKATA: Police clashed with stone-throwing protestors in Kolkata yesterday, authorities said, as tens of millions of Indians staged a 48-hour nationwide strike months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi runs for re-election.
Unions said that some 200 million workers took part in what they called the biggest show of force since Modi’s right-wing government took office in 2014, accusing it of neglecting workers and farmers. The stoppage called by 10 unions hit India’s vast black economy as well as public services, banks and the insurance sector, with West Bengal in the east and Kerala and Karnataka in the south the worst affected.
West Bengal’s capital Kolkata, home to five million people, saw sporadic violence as protesters squatted on train tracks, clashed with police, set fire to effigies of Modi and staged marches waving red flags. “Security forces fought pitched battles with stone-throwing protesters on roads,” West Bengal’s Transport Minister Subhendu Adhikari said.
“At least 10 buses have been damaged after protesters threw stones and set fire to vehicles,” he said. More than 100 people were arrested, police said. “Police are detaining our people like foxes catching chickens,” Subhash Mukherjee, president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions told AFP, adding that the government was showing its “fascist face”.
In Kerala, thousands of protesters blocked trains, causing major delays, while buses were off the roads, leaving thousands of commuters stuck. Local media reports said protestors also stopped employees from reporting to work at several places in the coastal state, which last week was hit by violence related to women entering one of Hinduism’s holiest temples.
Similar images from neighboring Karnataka state showed demonstrators blocking trains and staging protests in the state capital Bangalore, India’s major information technology hub. In India’s financial capital Mumbai, a separate strike by 33,000 bus company employees made for transport misery in the already chaotic metropolis, despite an industrial court declaring the stoppage illegal.
The left-leaning unions have put forward a 12-point charter of demands before the government aimed, they say, at reviving Asia’s third-biggest economy and improving worker rights. They are also unhappy about an amendment in India’s labor laws that the government has said is aimed at bringing transparency and ameliorating conditions. – AFP