Transport services were disrupted, businesses were shut and incidents of violence were reported across India Monday during a strike by opposition parties to protest an increase in prices of fuel, dpa reported
The eastern metropolis of Kolkata and the financial capital of Mumbai were worst-hit during the protest, called separately by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist parties.
Party activists held rallies, blocked roads and vandalized stores and establishments in states like Uttar Pradesh in the north, Bihar in the east and Kerala in the south to enforce the 12-hour strike that began at 6 am (0030 GMT).
The impact of the strike was felt most in the BJP- and left-ruled states with road and rail services being hit and markets, banks, schools and colleges closed.
More than a 100 domestic flights were cancelled and many trains were suspended in Mumbai and Kolkata, which saw deserted roads and a heavy police deployment.
As many as 150 state transport buses were damaged during protests in Mumbai, the IANS news agency reported.
BJP supporters put up roadblocks at key intersections in the capital, New Delhi, and tried to disrupt metro operations to prevent people from going to work.
Last month's increase in fuel prices by the United Progressive Alliance government was expected to add nearly 1 percentage point to the inflation rate, currently at more than 10 per cent.
The hike raised the price of petrol by 3.50 rupees (8 cents) a litre. Diesel prices increased 2 rupees a litre, and kerosene rose by 3 rupees.
Opposition lawmakers have criticized the "anti-people economic policies" and threatened to escalate the protests unless the government rolled back the hike.
"Today, the entire country is witnessing massive protests during the Bharat Bandh [India Shutdown]," Arun Jaitley, a BJP leader and head of the opposition in the upper house of India's Parliament, said in Uttar Pradesh's capital, Lucknow, before being arrested by the police. "The poor are under pressure because of the government's economic policies."
Dozens of party supporters were injured in street clashes in the city while protestors also attacked rail commuters in neighbouring Bihar, the CNN-IBN network reported.
"The strike is unprecedented as such protest action has had a wide sweep, covering almost the entire country," said Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The strike was also felt in Bangalore, considered India's information-technology hub with technology firms closing operations for the day and people staying at home.
More than half a million trucks stayed off the roads with the main truckers union participating in the strike.
By Monday evening, news channels estimated that the shutdown had cost the country's industry an estimated 30 billion rupees (627 million dollars).
Some locals claimed the strike did little to help people. "The prices are increasing, but by paralyzing the country, it will only make the economy weaker and things tougher for the poor man," Bangalore resident Manohar Rao said.
The June 25 decision on hiking fuel prices was aimed at ending the government's fuel subsidies and lowering its budget deficit, which is forecast to hit 5.5 per cent of the gross domestic product by 2010-2011.
Opposition parties have held nationwide strikes in recent months against the ruling United Progressive Alliance government for its failure to control spiralling inflation