Protests erupt in India over fuel prices

Protesters shut down businesses, block roads and railways as electoral challenges loom for govt

NEW DELHI: Nationwide protests against record high petrol and diesel prices shut down businesses, government offices and schools in many parts of India yesterday, and in some places protesters blocked trains and roads and vandalised vehicles.

Gearing up for a general election less than nine months away and provincial polls expected in some states later this year, opposition parties banded together to organise their first protest action in a joint campaign to stir discontent with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government.

The protests turned violent in some states. Images showed protesters breaking car and bus windows in Patna, capital of the northern state of Bihar. They also blocked roads with burning tyres there and elsewhere, including in Mr Modi's home state of Gujarat.

Taxes on petrol and diesel are among the biggest sources of income for the government and one of the most emotive issues for voters.

Past governments have usually lowered taxes whenever international oil prices shot up, but Mr Modi's administration has made little concession so far.

"The Modi government is stealing from the people of India with excessive taxes on fuel," the opposition Indian National Congress party said on Twitter, posting graphics on how prices of many commodities have risen under Mr Modi.

"Not just fuel, even day to day essentials are skyrocketing."

Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accuses its opponents of "unnecessarily politicising" high fuel prices and the weakening of the rupee, which it blames on external factors like the economic woes of countries such as Turkey.

Nevertheless, Mr Modi's popularity has come down in the past few months and his party is likely to face a tough challenge in three BJP-ruled states - Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh - expected to vote this year, and at the general election expected early next year. - REUTERS