Indian traders strike for $450 bln market

Indian traders strike for $450 bln market

NEW DELHI - Reuters
Indian traders strike for $450 bln market

A mannequin is seen inside a closed shop in the old quarters of New Delhi. AFP photo

Tens of thousands of small shopkeepers went on strike across India yesterday to protest a government decision to allow foreign retail giants to enter the country’s $450 billion retail market.

Global supermarket groups see a huge opportunity in India, Asia’s third-largest economy with a fast growing consumer class. For millions of shopkeepers, though, the prospect of competing with Walmart and other multinational retail brands is daunting.

“I only earn about 2,000 rupees ($39) a week and I have seven children to take care of,” said Rakesh Kumar, who owns a small curtain store in central Delhi. “If these foreigners waltz in here and take away whatever I earn, how will I get my little girls married in the future?”

The opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and government coalition allies have stalled parliament this week to protest at what they say will be widespread job losses among millions of small traders.

One BJP politician last week threatened to burn down any store Walmart opens in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

In a country of 1.2 billion people, the protests were patchy. In some BJP strongholds most small business were closed, while in ruling Congress party-dominated cities such as New Delhi the strike was partial.

Demonstrating traders in Delhi chanted “Rollback the FDI” and held placards reading “If you can’t provide us with jobs, don’t take away our current ones!”

The controversy has become a lightning rod for the opposition ahead of state elections next year that will pave the way for a general election in 2014.