NEW DELHI, India, March 15, Reuter: More than 15,000 people were arrested in India’s Tamil Nadu State before an opposition-led national strike on Tuesday.
A government spokesman said the 15,000, including strike organizers and political activists, had been detained since Monday in the State, governed directly from New Delhi under President’s Rule, to prevent “untoward incidents”.
The official said police fired a shot in the air to disperse a crowd which was putting up road blocks near Manamadurai town 280 km southwest of the state capital Madras, but no one was injured.
Six of the country’s states where Opposition parties are in power were crippled by the strike. These included West Bengal; where a Marxist coalition rules.
Eight opposition parties led by the Communist party of India-Marxist (CPM) called the strike to demand Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi pay more attention on the country’s drought it economy, and resign and allow a midterm election.
A leading opposition party, the Hindu revivalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has not joined in the strike.
The government vowed to keep essential services as well as its own offices open but the strike appeared to have taken hold in the violence torn northern state of Punjab, also governed directly by New Delhi, where Sikhs are fighting for an independent homeland.
Police and other sources in the Punjab capital of Chandigarh said schools in the state were closed and public security forces are on ted alert.
In the Indian capital the strike had little visible impact early in the day, although some schools were closed.
But the stoppage seems certain to complete in six of the seven opposition ruled states, including West Bengal and Kerala.
In Tamil Nadu, elections to the State Assembly are due and the Opposition wants to show its strength.
S.S. Sidhu, adviser to the State Governor, told reporters all efforts were being made to maintain normality.
Opposition sources said some of domestic air services were certain to be affected as leftist trade unions had backed the strike.
The opposition parties have called the strike to gauge their own popularity and to press for early Parliamentary elections.
Trade unions in many governments own enterprises across the country have also gone on strike to demand better wages.
Gandhi’s government has staged a television and radio offensive against the strike and has been accused by the opposition of misusing the state owned media.
Some nationalized and foreign banks were closed and trading was affected in some markets across the country.
Only a scattered response was reported by officials in the north Indian Hindi speaking states. The traditional vote base of Gandhi’s Congress (I) Party.
Officials said the strike’s main effects were shown in West Bengal Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana, and Assam — all opposition strongholds.
The strike also affected Punjab and Tamil Nadu —— States at the Opposite ends of the country both ruled directly by New Delhi, Both states were controlled by opposition parties before the state government was suspended.
In Tamil Nadu, the government cracked down on opposition and union activists and arrested 15,000 on Monday. Several hundred people were rounded up in other states, officials said.
The stoppage was the first major confrontation outside of elections between Gandhi who came to pore in October, 1984, and the opposition parties which have called for a snap election before the government’s term ends next year.
The Opposition has also charged the government has failed to solve political problems in Punjab where Sikhs are waging an armed campaign for a separate homeland.
Report from Chandigarh said transport, schools, and colleges were seriously affected despite government’s efforts to maintain normal life.
In Amritsar, freedom fighters waving AK-47 assault rifles came out of the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikh faith, shouting slogans for independence.
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