Millions of Indians have gone on strike, paralyzing travel, over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's policies, especially plans to privatize state-run firms, including Bharat Petroleum. Data shows India's economy slowing.
Ten trade unions led Wednesday's mass protest backed by opposition parties, including the Congress, whose leading figure Rahul Gandhi said "catastrophic unemployment" had been created by Modi's right-wing government.
Union members, joined by farmers and students, marched on streets in New Delhi, blocked key highways in Kolkata, protesting in 15 of India's 16 states, according to one union leader Amarjeet Kaur.
"The working class is on roads today," she said.
Bus and rail services, as well as state-owned banks, bore the brunt of the 24-hour stoppage.
Air India for sale?
Modi's government has said it plans to sell firms, such as Air India and Bharat Petroleum Corporation, asserting they have made losses for years, as it prepares its next annual budget. In 2019, however, Bharat Petroleum reported net profits worth more than $1 billion.
On Wednesday, Modi's government warned that workers of "consequences," saying they would not receive salaries while on strike.
"The attitude of the government is that of contempt towards labor, said the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, one of the strike organizing bodies.
Modi's government recently recapitalized the banks and offered domestic companies tax incentives, but that had not boosted investment, according to data from India's National Statistical Office.
On Tuesday it forecast growth slowing in 2020 to 5.0% — the slowest pace in 11 years — with manufacturing, cement and power sectors faring poorly.
Last month, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) urged India to take steps quickly to reverse the slowdown, attributing it also to declining consumption and falling tax revenues.
Wednesday's strike added to pressure on Modi's government over a nationality law passed in December and growing unrest at universities.
ipj/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)