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Sporadic incidents of violence during oppn-sponsored 'Bharat Bandh' against fuel price hike

New Delhi: Sporadic incidents of violence were reported Monday during a Congress-led opposition sponsored 'Bharat Bandh' against spiralling fuel prices that disrupted normal life mainly in Bihar, Kerala, Karnataka, Assam and Odisha.

As the Congress top brass including party chief Rahul Gandhi targeted the Modi government at a protest rally in Ramlila maidan in Delhi, offices and educational institutes remained closed and vehicles were off the roads in the states hit by the bandh that drew a mixed response.

The bandh was called by 21 opposition parties that included the Congress, its allies and the Left. Scores of Congress activists were taken into police custody in several states for forcibly trying to enforce the bandh, according to reports from the state capitals.

While the Congress and other opposition parties claimed the bandh was a success, the ruling BJP claimed it was a flop. Bihar witnessed widespread arson, vandalism and disruption of rail and road traffic. Burning tyres were placed on railway tracks in the old Patna city area disrupting movement of trains.

The BJP held bandh supporters responsible for the death of a two-year-old girl in Jehanabad while being taken to a hospital but the local administration denied the allegation that the ambulance carrying her was stopped by the protesters. Union minister and senior BJP leader Giriraj Singh termed the bandh as an "electoral stunt" while his party colleague Ram Kripal Yadav claimed the shutdown was a "flop".

In the national capital, normal life remained unaffected with offices, schools and colleges functioning normally and vehicles plying on the roads. Left leaders including CPI-M chief Sitaram Yechury courted arrest at Parliament Street police station.

In states like Kerala, Karnataka, Bihar, Odisha and Arunachal Pradesh life was hit by the shutdown, but Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Mizoram remained largely unaffected. The Left observed a 12-hour strike in Kerala and West Bengal instead of the 9 am to 3 pm shutdown called by the Congress and other parties.

The dawn-to-dusk hartal, called by the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF in Kerala and Congress-headed opposition UDF was near total and passed off peacefully. The hartal hit normal life and both public and private transport buses and autorickshaws stayed off the roads. Addressing the protest rally, Rahul Gandhi alleged hatred was being spread and the country being divided under the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was also present.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said it was time for all opposition parties to shed their differences and move forward unitedly "to save" sovereignty and democracy. The BJP defended the rise in oil prices, attributing it to global factors, and accused the Congress and other opposition parties of resorting to violence during the bandh as people did not support their call.

Prasad claimed that the people understood the government's point of view and refused to support the 'Bharat Bandh' call. "That is unnerving the Congress and other opposition parties. Their resort to violence is designed to overawe the people of India. An atmosphere of fear is being created," Prasad told reporters.

Protesters targeted buses, including some school vehicles, and disrupted rail traffic at some places in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, officials said. At some places, petrol pumps were also targeted. Schools, colleges and shopping establishments remained closed at a number of places in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Gujarat, officials added.

In Odisha, train services were disrupted in many places as Congress workers blocked railway tracks to enforce the bandh. At least 10 trains were cancelled. Normal life was thrown out of gear in Karnataka where the Congress-JD(S) combine is in power.

Roads in Bangalore wore a deserted look as government buses, private taxis and most autorickshaws did not ply. Businesses, shops, malls, some private enterprises remained closed. KSRTC buses kept off the road and city buses also did not ply. In Mangaluru, incidents of stone pelting at hotels and shops, which remained open, were reported.

Almost all schools, colleges and offices were open in TMC-ruled West Bengal where examinations were held as scheduled. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is among the strongest critics of BJP, said she "in principle" supported the issue on which the 'Bharat Bandh' was called but not the bandh.

In Tamil Nadu, normal life largely remained unaffected. However, autorickshaws affiliated to trade unions participating in the shutdown kept off the roads. Police said city buses were operating but those bound for Kerala were not plying. Buses bound to Karnataka from here were stopped at inter-state border in Hosur, the police added.

Normal life was affected in Arunachal Pradesh. All shops and business establishments were closed and private vehicles were off the roads. The call for bandh evoked little response in Uttar Pradesh and most commercial establishments remained open.

Congress workers attempted to stop movement of trains by squatting on the railway tracks and also tried to block national highways and main roads across Assam by burning tyres and setting up bamboo barricades to prevent movement of vehicles, police reports said.

In Vijayawada, the Andhra Pradesh state Congress President N Raghuveera Reddy led a bullock cart rally from the party office to the protest site.

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