Indians Strike Against Reform Plans

Indian opposition parties and shopkeepers launched a day of protests and strikes on Thursday against a rush of economic reforms by the Congress-led coalition government, which include cuts in diesel fuel subsidies and the liberalization of the retail trade.

Raveendran | AFP | Getty Images

Flag-waving activists from opposition parties, including the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party and Samajwadi, a socialist party based in Uttar Pradesh, stopped trains at rail junctions in the northern cities of Patna and Allahabad.

Shops and schools are expected to be closed in many parts of India, although Mumbai, the commercial capital, is expected to be little affected because the city is already celebrating a festival in honor of the elephant-headed god Ganesh.

Manmohan Singh, prime minister, and Palaniappan Chidambaram, his finance minister, have outraged their leftwing opponents and some of their political allies but delighted Indian and foreign investors with the series of reforms announced last week.

The government has increased the price of diesel by 14 per cent through cuts in subsidies, in a drive to curb the growing budget deficit, and has relaunched plans to open supermarkets, department stores and airlines to foreign investment.

Mamata Banerjee, the powerful chief minister of West Bengal and head of the Trinamool Congress party, has said she will withdraw from the coalition, which would leave Mr. Singh’s administration short of a stable majority in parliament after the loss of her 19 seats.

She has demanded abandonment of the retail liberalization and a partial reversal of subsidy cuts for diesel and cooking gas, but she has refused to support Thursday’s strikes and protests.

Congress leaders insist they will not back down on the substance of the reforms, but have not ruled out minor concessions to keep her in the coalition or to attract new parliamentary allies from other parties.