The 48-hour nationwide strike, that commenced on Tuesday morning received a somewhat lukewarm response from most of the southern states, with mostly business as usual without many hiccups. The Bharat Bandh, called for national level trade unions against the centre’s recent policies, carried out peaceful protests across city centres, but in designated areas that did not impact normal life in states like Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Urban centres like Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai had a cautious beginning to the day but most establishments, public transport and other services quickly opened up amidst heavy police presence, put in place to keep all protests under control.
However, the shutdown was total in Communist party ruled Kerala, where the public has been reeling under back to back hartals over the Sabarimala controversy.
Political parties like the Communist Party of India (Marxist) shared pictures of the protest, which in some states appeared to have a much better response than several others.
Several trade unions called for a general strike that got the backing of public transport workers, insurance and banking employees among several other sections against the centre’s alleged anti-farmer measures, demonetisation and shoddy implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) and have made 12 demands.
In a statement on Monday, trade unions have demanded that the centre stop all ‘pro-corporate, anti-worker amendments to labour laws’, stop the privatisation and corporatisation of transport sector, abolish contract system and implement a national common minimum wage among other demands.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led union government has hit out against the Bandh, calling it politically motivated. Trade unions have long protested several measures of the centre but have intensified protests after the roll out specific economic policies, that it believes favours industrialists over workers. Opposition parties have given their backing to the Bandh to corner the Prime Minister Narendra Modi led union government in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, scheduled to be held later this year.
The Bandh by trade unions coming around a month after several farmer bodies carried out protests and marched to the country’s capital demanding loan waivers and providing minimum support prices for their produce among other demands. Opposition parties, who are trying to consolidate their forces to take on the BJP in the upcoming Parliamentary elections, are trying to lead the protests to try and earn the backing of trade and farmer unions to help bring down the BJP government in the centre.
But the frequency of such strikes forced even some anti-BJP parties not to back the Bandh. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was among those who did not back the nationwide strike like several of her counterparts.
In Kerala, despite traders expressing their interest to open shops, private and public enterprises remained largely shut in most parts.