NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian police detained dozens of lawmakers from the opposition Congress party, including key leader Rahul Gandhi, as they attempted to march Friday to the president’s palace and prime minister’s residence to protest soaring food and fuel prices and an increase in the goods and services tax.
Police also detained hundreds of party supporters inside it headquarters in New Delhi and elsewhere to prevent them from joining the protesting lawmakers, many of whom wore black.
Several women protesters cooked food outside the party headquarters using wood for the fire, saying that cooking gas prices have risen beyond the means of poor and middle-class families.
In New Delhi, police began barricading the Congress party headquarters and homes of party leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday after the party announced plans to organize countrywide protests against the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“What we are witnessing is the death of democracy in India,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters. ”Anybody who stands against this idea of the onset of dictatorship is viciously attacked, put in jail, arrested, and beaten. The idea is that people’s issues — whether they are price rises, unemployment, or violence in society — people’s issues must not be raised. That is the sole agenda of the government.”
Police prevented the party's efforts to hold similar marches in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, Gauhati, and some other cities, detaining party members and taking them away in buses and other vehicles.
There was no immediate police comment. The lawmakers and their supporters were expected to be released after brief detentions — a general practice by police in such protests.
"This is the worst form of vendetta politics. We will not submit! We will not be silenced! We will continue to raise our voice against injustices and failures of the Modi government,” the party said in a tweet.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman defended the government’s handling of the economy in Parliament earlier this week and said there was zero probability of India slipping into recession.
The opposition was infuriated by the government's decision last month to impose a tax on packed milk curd, cheese, buttermilk, packed rice, flour and wheat. The government earlier raised fuel prices.