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Government undeterred by opposition to organized retail

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Even as anti-organised retail protesters chalk out plans to converge at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan on October 10, to demand that big corporations quit retail business, the government appears to be undeterred by it.

The protest being organized by two-year old National Movement for Retail Democracy (NMRD), an umbrella organization representing associations of farmers, traders, hawkers, and even chemists from all over India, has targeted three corporations: Reliance Fresh, for being part of the country’s largest corporate house, Reliance Industries, Wal-Mart, for being the world’s largest retailer and Bharti Retail, for partnering Wal-Mart.

However, the government has stuck to its stand of supporting retail despite the prevailing election mood in the country as it feels that it cannot afford to lose out the Rs 8,40,000 crore retail market.

“We cannot afford to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” government sources said.

A clear indication that government favoured organized retail came when Finance Minister P Chidambaram said that the government was not averse to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in this sector.

The protests against organized retail is because of the fear that with the entry of corporates in this sector, it would hit the mom-n’-pop stores as also the vegetable vendors on the streets and small businesses.

Giving the anti-organised retail protest a political tinge is Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), and a leading anti-VAT protestor. He is also the son of a Bharatiya Janata Party politician.

Khandelwal has an eye on the Lok Sabha polls and wants to mobilise political support when parties are most vulnerable on the issue. “We have asked all political parties to make their stand clear to us. If there is a mid-term poll, parties will be interested in capturing our vote bank,” said Khandelwal.

Others include Shaktiman Ghosh, a trade-unionist based in Kolkata and general secretary of the National Hawkers Federation, and Mahendra Singh Tikait of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), who came to Delhi with 20,000 farmers last month to formally announce an alliance with the NMRD.

But, industry sources say the Indian market is so large that everybody can manage and the entry of retail would not in anyway hamper the smaller shopkeepers.

“Take the case of food sector. Even after the entry of large companies like Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Mcdonalds, the Indian chains like Nirulas, Haldirams and others have not suffered. So, why make a hue and cry of the entry of corporates into retail,” said industry sources.

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