India Insight

Incendiary India: petrol strike leaves Bangalore becalmed

I did something on Thursday that I never thought I would get a chance to do: I walked in the middle of MG Road, one of Bangalore’s busiest thoroughfares, and survived. This gesture normally would be suicidal, but today’s a different kind of day in Bangalore. An eerie quiet descended on parts of India’s call centre and tech outsourcing capital as a nationwide strike to protest petrol price rises shut down businesses and public transportation.

I rolled into town from New York City early Thursday morning, and went for a walk to find out how the “Bharat Bandh,” or “India Closed” (more or less), declared by India’s top opposition party, the BJP, and some other, smaller parties, was affecting the city. The sun was out, the humidity rising; it was a delightful day in the so-called garden city of India, but it looked and felt like a exaggerated Sunday, with men hanging out by their local paanwallahs, grabbing an idle smoke and noshing on fried goodies. Security guards drooped in plastic chairs in front of stores and offices, looking even more bored than usual. There were so few cars and motorcycles on the road that you could hear yourself think, and there was so little exhaust that the air nearly felt healthy. In other words: the strike was on.

To anyone who has never visited this city, this scene doesn’t sound all that novel. But Bangalore on a normal day is a near constant grind of traffic. Endless buses, motorbikes, autorickshaws, cars, and trucks, trucks and more trucks. To cross the street without assistance, particularly for a foreigner, merits the award of some kind of medal of honor. It is normal for someone unaccustomed to the density of traffic in the heart of this city to wait 15 minutes before crossing the street — and that’s when the light is on your side.

Nazia Shaheen, the receptionist at my hotel, said that the city buses that normally ferry drivers for the hotel to work have stopped running. What can the hotel do for guests stranded at the airport, nearly an hour away? They’re on their own, she said. Nothing to be done. The new mall down the street from my hotel was shut, with a sign hanging that said it was because of the bandh. Similar notices hung on metal roll-up doors that normally are, well, rolled up around the noontime lunch hour. The bus stops were empty, the autorickshaw stands at the Taj and other expensive hotels free of drivers waiting to overcharge their fares.

Nadeem Pasha, 26, is a salesman at the Nike store in the shuttered mall. He and two friends sat on a bench across the street from the building, waiting to go to work. The Nike store said it was calling them in despite the closings to do inventory and stock work that they normally would do at night. Why not participate in the strike, I asked him.

We are flying, without salary: Kingfisher pilots to passengers

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Passengers onboard Kingfisher Airlines flights are being treated to more than run-of-the-mill announcements for the past couple of days. Pilots employed by the beleaguered airline have devised a unique form of protest.

Just before passengers deplaned, Kingfisher pilots announced they have not been paid for two months and they are still flying purely due to a “sense of duty towards the guest”, local media reported on Thursday.

A civil aviation ministry official travelling on one of those flights went to the cockpit and congratulated the pilots for not resorting to “industrial action”, the Economic Times newspaper said citing a pilot.

Kashmir seeks return of hanged separatist leader’s remains

A Kashmiri man puts his signature on a banner during a signature campaign by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in Srinagar February 4, 2011. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliMohammad Maqbool Bhat, the pioneer of Kashmir’s separatist struggle, was hanged in New Delhi’s Tihar jail on February 11, 1984.

Bhat, also the founder of Kashmir’s influential separatist group Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was executed on the charge of killing an Indian intelligence officer. His body was buried in the jail.

Five years after Bhat’s hanging, Kashmiri militants including JKLF launched an insurgency against Indian rule in the Muslim-majority region and the bloodshed has continued ever since.

Reactions from the common man

Opposition parties held a one-day general strike to protest a fuel price hike by the government. Reuters finds out its impact in New Delhi and whether Delhiites support the strike.

Rail lifeline shows Mumbai commuters no mercy

By Arun George

The agitation by motormen on Mumbai’s suburban railway is not the first the city has seen in recent times.

Commuters cross railway tracks in Mumbai May 4, 2010. REUTERS/Arko DattaBut it has been among the worst with chaos in the city as people tried to deal with the sudden absence of the arterial transport system.

Even the trial of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the sole gunman arrested in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was not spared. Staff working in the court could not reach on time.

The Jet strike: Where does the buck stop?

The distraught foreign national and her wheelchair-bound mother on TV is a compelling argument against the Jet Airways pilots’ strike which has dragged on for four days.

The stand-off between the pilots and the airline management over the sacking of four pilots has forced the airline to cancel hundreds of flights, affecting at least 14,000 passengers since Tuesday.

The public inconvenience caused by such strikes is so pressing that the cause of the strike almost always seems petty.

Kashmir — blocked road to Paradise?

A few days ago, a friend called to share plans for a week-long holiday. She had convinced her family to take the vacation in Kashmir, the perfect opportunity to escape the scorching heat of New Delhi.

It was a good time to visit the Valley. The uproar over the May 29 Shopian case — in which locals blamed the death and rape of two women on Indian security forces — had died down.

Or so it seemed.

Then my friend called again. She sounded glum and I soon knew why. The trip had been cancelled.