BJP’s show of strength over price rise cripples Delhi


New Delhi: Tens of thousands of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists laid siege to the capital Wednesday, nearly crippling it, to denounce rising food prices. It was the party’s first show of strength since president Nitin Gadkari took charge in December.

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The scorching summer heat of the day, however, took its toll as Gadkari briefly feinted when he led a mammoth procession from the Ramlila Ground towards parliament, about four km away. Senior colleagues immediately held the 53-year-old and helped him take rest on the road.

The central parts of the capital were hit hard by traffic jams as police closed several roads for the BJP rally early in the day and the procession in the afternoon.

The BJP rally also disrupted parliament as its MPs trooped out of the Lok Sabha en masse. It drew supporters from many parts of the country, most of them from neighbouring states. Many came to the venue in buses.

Besides Gadkari, a string of BJP veterans, including its star leader L.K. Advani and former president Rajnath Singh, hit out at the government for what they said was its failure to check the spiralling prices of food and other essential commodities.

“Whenever Congress comes to power, prices of essential commodities shoot up,” Gadkari told the rally at Ramlila Ground, pointing out that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi had vowed to tame food prices within 100 days of taking office.

Instead, he said, poor people, farmers in particular, were committing suicides, unable to withstand the high cost of living.

Both he and Advani alleged that the government’s economic mismanagement and corruption were two key factors for the price rise.

“They have wrong economic policies and are providing bad governance,” Gadkari added, as boisterous activists waved the party’s saffron and green flags and chanted anti-government slogans.

Driven primarily by high food prices, India’s annual rate of inflation was 9.9 percent last week, up from 9.89 percent a month ago.

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said that the party will unseat the ruling party if did not check escalating prices of essential commodities.

“Either check price rise or quit office,” she said.

Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said that the Congress-led government has failed on all fronts.

“Whether it is security or fighting terrorism, Maoism and corruption, the government has failed on all fronts,” he said.

Gadkari alleged that food stocks were rotting in warehouses and accused the government of not doing enough to preserve them so that these could be later sold to liquor makers cheaply.

Rajnath Singh was at his sarcastic best.

Referring to the ugly Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket row, he said that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was “worried about IPL and not BPL (Below Poverty Line) people”.

Former BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi accused Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, a key functionary in India’s cricket board, of paying more attention to cricket than food inflation and the farm economy.

“People are angry. The policies of the government are not in the interests of the common man,” he said, adding that the gulf between the rich and the poor was widening.

Both Singh and Joshi complimented Gadkari over Wednesday’s rally.

“This kind of successful rally… I could not organise as the president,” said Rajnath Singh, who headed the BJP when it lost the second consecutive Lok Sabha election in 2009.

Advani called it the biggest rally the party had organised in Delhi. “In one way, it has beaten the records of all previous (BJP) rallies.”

Senior BJP leaders including Gadkari, Advani, Swaraj and Jaitley were “arrested” and “immediately released” by the police while they were on their way to parliament as part of party’s march against price rise. A senior party leader said that police stopped the leaders midway and announced their symbolic arrest and release.

The rally hit traffic movement across central Delhi, disrupting traffic on Tilak Marg, Asaf Ali Road, Netaji Subhash Marg, Ranjit Singh Marg, Tolstoy Marg, Sikandra Road, Barakhamba Road, Parliament Street and Ashoka Road – most of which lie in the city’s heart. Also hit were Mathura Road and Ring Road, two of the capital’s busiest roads.