NEW DEHLI - Opposition parties and trade unions in India have taken part in a daylong strike on Thursday over plans to open the country's retail sector to global supermarket chains, reports BBC News.

This measure announced last week by the government has triggered a political firestorm as the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), joined by its allies and the Communist Party, called for demonstrations across the country.

Opposition leaders believe that shopkeepers will lose business if foreign supermarkets such as Walmart, Carrefour or Tesco are allowed into India. Indians also fear a revolution in customer habits.

Workers blocked railway tracks in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and the opposition strongholds of Calcutta and Bangalore were virtually shut down.

Schools, businesses and public transport were also shut down in many cities across India. Mumbai and New Delhi were less affected by the protests.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) had forecasted that 50 million people would participate in the protest, reports Al Jazeera.

According to The Hindu, several opposition party leaders marched along protesters, including Left leader Prakash Karat who said the government’s new decision would “rob the jobs of traders and give it to companies like Walmart.”

The measure is meant to boost a slowing economy and to avoid the threat of a downgrade in India's credit rating.

In the meantime, the government announced a controversial 14% rise in the price of diesel, which is heavily subsidized in India.