June 5th, 2008
11:42 AM GMT
CALCUTTA, India – I am in Calcutta, India, the city I grew up in and still call home. It was supposed to have been a busy day for me. I had meetings set up, errands to run, host a play date for my son, have lunch with friends. Instead, I'll be at home all day. Today – and tomorrow.
Activists burn an effigy in Hyderabad against fuel price rises.
It's not that I mind sitting at home all day. I am on holiday and more than happy to spend time with my parents, plod around the house and catch up with my cousins and niece who live down the road. That's as far as I can go on Thursday as well as Friday.
There's a two day bandh – a general strike called by the ruling Left Front on day one, and by the opposition parties the next day. That means cars aren't allowed on the road, schools are closed, shops are shut, no businesses will trade, some flights to and from the city have been canceled.
The bandh is West Bengal's answer to the hike in fuel prices. After putting it off for weeks, India's central government sharply raised fuel prices on Wednesday. An extra Rs 5 per liter for petrol (up around 11 percent,) Rs 3 for diesel, Rs 50 for a cylinder of cooking gas.
That's a steep rise. With global oil prices at record highs, the Indian government had to give in. As it is, fuel prices in India are heavily subsidised to ease the impact on the millions who live in poverty.
State-run oil marketing companies are hemorrhaging vast amounts of money – as much as a billion dollars a day, according to some reoports. Some folks say the price hike should have been even higher, to make the economics of $130 a barrel of oil work out. Thursday's price hike was inevitable.
Fine, I get all that. I understand why the government had to raise fuel prices and I understand why people are upset. So, protest. Hold a peaceful rally somewhere and make your point. Tell the government you are angry, make your demands. But a bandh?! How does it help to bring a heaving city to a grinding halt for two days?
Not only is it a massive headache for calcuttans, imagine the financial cost to the city of two lost working days.
It makes no sense.
For a state trying to woo investors, attract multinational companies and project an image of a forward thinking business hub – a bandh is a giant step backwards. How can those calling the bandh not get that?
Let me know what you think.
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