NEW DELHI, Sept 2 (IANS): Normal life was hit in many states on Wednesday as millions of industrial and blue collar employees struck work in the first nationwide protest since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power more than a year ago.
Leaders of central trade unions which called the day-long strike claimed "unprecedented success" as banks, insurance companies and state-run as well as private factories shut across the country. Transport unions and traders too joined the protest in many places, leading to the closure of educational institutions and thin attendance in government offices.
"The response has been unprecedented," veteran union leader Gurudas Dasgupta from the All India Trade Union Congress told IANS. "In Delhi we are seeing such an impact for the first time. We didn't expect this."
The strike is in support of 12 demands, including withdrawal of labour law amendments, a minimum wage of Rs.15,000 a month and against privatisation of public sector units. Unions said about 300 million workers were involved in the protest.
The strike was largely peaceful except in parts of West Bengal where clashes were reported in Murshidabad, Howrah and North 24 Parganas between Left activists and members of the ruling Trinamool Congress.
Financial services were hit hard as lakhs of bank and insurance employees - including those from cooperative banks and regional rural banks - joined the strike, All India Bank Employees Association general secretary C.H. Venkatachalam told IANS in Chennai.
He said the strike was a success in major cities like Mumbai, the country's financial capital, as well as New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata.
But unions in State Bank of India and Indian Overseas Bank did not take part.
In Mumbai, union leader V. Utagi said: "The strike in the banking and financial services sector is near total. Work at Mumbai Port Trust is hit. And Maharashtra's 1.50 million government employees have joined us."
But public buses and Mumbai's suburban trains plied though their unions lent "moral support" to the strike. A section of cabs and auto-rickshaws in Mumbai also joined the strike, which Utagi said was "a major success".
In Delhi, banks, insurance companies and industrial areas observed a shutdown. Most auto-rickshaws, the poor man's taxi, went off the roads. But Delhi Metro reported normal operations.
The strike hit hard life in Kerala, a Left bastion. Most IT firms in Technopark and Infopark reported very thin attendance. Work at the Cochin Port was affected.
The shutdown evoked mixed response in Karnataka. Buses and autos didn't ply while factories, banks and shops were closed. Thousands of commuters were stranded in cities and towns across the state.
The strike hit transport and banking services in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh too.
Buses of state-owned road transport corporations in both states went off the roads as did auto-rickshaws in Hyderabad and other towns. Truck owners and drivers also joined the strike in some places. Petrol bunks were shut in a few places.
In Bhopal, all state-run public buses remained off the roads. Shops and banks too were shut. The strike was particularly effective in major cities like Indore, Jabalpur and Ujjain.
Normal life was hit in Bihar as thousands of workers in the government and private sector joined the strike. In some places, strike supporters blocked roads and halted train services.
The strike was total in Left-ruled Tripura. All offices, shops, markets, banks and educational institutions were shut while vehicular traffic went off the roads.
In Kolkata, while educational institutions and commercial establishments were largely closed, buses and the metro operated normally. But there were fewer commuters.
Train services on the Eastern Railway and South Eastern Railway were hit as strike supporters blocked the tracks in several areas.
The strike had the least effect in Tamil Nadu although life was hit in industrial areas besides banks and insurance companies.
The impact of the shutdown in Himachal Pradesh was seen in Shimla, Rampur, Theog, Solan, Mandi, Nahan, Una, Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Dharamsala, Palampur, Kangra, Kullu and Manali towns as bus operators joined the protest.
In Goa, markets and public transport were hit hard, union leaders said. Police arrested about 200 workers who had blocked National Highway 17 near the Verna Industrial estate, 25 km from Panaji.