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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’Inde au rythme de la grève générale

by Lina Sankari

General strike in India

Translated Saturday 23 February 2013, by Kristina Wischenkamper

Shops, transport and the banking sectors were all paralyzed. In the midst of an economic downturn, workers took to the streets in protest against the liberalization of whole sections of the economy and the perspective of austerity measures.

The long line of green and yellow rickshaws remained immobile, railways were blocked, iron shutters of shops and businesses lowered and banking interrupted. The general strike in India is to last for 48 hours. Millions of Indian workers responded to the call of eleven unions including the union closest to the Congress Party in power despite the appeals of Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh not to support the movement against the high cost of living, arguing that it would only harm the economy even more. The country has seen a significant downturn in growth rates, down to 5%, the worst performance in ten years if the latest forecasts are confirmed. Indians also face rising fuel costs and are vehemently against the opening up of the retail, insurance and aviation sectors to foreign investors after more than two decades of imposed liberalization of the markets.

“Which reforms are we talking about? Since 1991, the gap between rich and poor has continued to widen. The poor have become poorer, inflation has reached unprecedented levels [between 7 and 10%] and the man in the street fights a daily battle to make ends meet. Liberalization has served only the multinationals, which enjoy tax advantages, facilities for credit, and the possibility of not repaying their loans. We demand policies focused on humans," explains secretary general of bank employees, Parmod Sharma. In 2010, a third of the population - 365 million people - were living under the poverty line.

The strike comes as parliament is due to open its debate on the 2013 budget. Manmohan Singh was hoping for a concensus concerning a 10% reduction in public spending in order to avoid the risk of the country being downgraded by the rating agencies. The general strike is intended to put more pressure on a government that is already in crisis and is looking anxiously towards the general elections in spring 2014. Manmohan Singh might have been hoping for an economic "boom", but he is actually sitting on a social and political timebomb.

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