NEW DELHI // Tens of thousands of people gathered in the Indian capital on Wednesday to protest against inflation, complaining that rising prices were increasing hardship for the country's many poor.
The mostly working-class demonstrators, many carrying Communist flags and shouting slogans against inflation and corruption, converged on the centre of New Delhi for the rally, with surrounding roads closed to traffic.
The rally was organised by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which joined forces with other unions to pressure the government over inflation before the unveiling of a new annual budget on Monday.
"Workers from 19 states, thousands of women among them, are reaching Delhi and will march to parliament to seek their rightful share in the country's so-called 'robust growth story'," said a CITU statement.
The CITU said it expected 800,000 to one million people, though this figure could not be independently verified. Police were unable to estimate the number of demonstrators.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described inflation as a serious threat to India's growth, and the government has been racing to boost vegetable and other supplies to bring down soaring food prices.
The most recent data show annual food inflation at 11.05 per cent, down from its highs of nearly 20 per cent, while headline inflation as measured by the wholesale price index is at 8.23 per cent.
The police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said nearly 2,000 policemen had been deployed in central Delhi to keep order during the demonstration.
"We have instructed the police to ensure that the crowd does not vandalise government buildings or monuments in central Delhi," he said.
One protester, Jagdeesh Thakur, president of a secondary school teachers' association in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said the left-leaning government was "on the wrong path".
"We need to control inflation. Stop unemployment and stop privatisations," he said. "The government is on the wrong path. It has forgotten the poor. It is only interested in helping the rich."
* Agence France-Presse