‘Quit Retail’, protestors plan rally on Oct 10

On October 10, 50,000 to 100,000 people – representing associations of farmers, traders, hawkers, and even chemists from all over India – will converge on Mumbai’s Azad Maidan to demand that big corporations quit the retail business.

Organised under the two-year-old National Movement for Retail Democracy (NMRD), the umbrella group for these associations, the protest has set its sights on three corporations: Reliance Fresh, for being part of the country’s largest corporate house, Reliance Industries [Get Quote]; Wal-Mart, for being the world’s largest retailer; and Bharti Retail, for partnering Wal-Mart.

Addressing the rally will be some of the prominent faces of the NGO movement. They include activist Vandana Shiva, founder-director of Navdanya, a movement of organic farming, and one of the NMRD’s convenors; and Dharmendra Kumar Sharma, former Delhi unit president of the All India Students’ Association, and founder of FDI India Watch, an anti-organised retail group.

Underlining the movement’s focus on big targets, the NMRD has also acquired an ally in the US group, the Association of Communities against Organised Retail Now (better known by the acronym, Acorn), the largest community organisation at the forefront of the battle against Wal-Mart.

“It is our rainbow alliance,” said Shiva, who is considered the ideological crutch of the movement. She claims the movement already has the biggest corporations on the defensive. “Can you believe that the Reliance Fresh store in Dehradun has not dared to remove its covers?” she said.

Added Sharma, an alumnus of St Stephen’s College and the man behind linking these diverse people into a mass movement: “We started two years ago when foreign direct investment in retail was allowed and Wal-Mart began its visits to India. But it has become big and visible now as it has grown at the grassroots level in the last one year.”

From a handful of members two years ago, the number of organisations under the NMRD is expected to touch 6,000 by the end of this year. And it is attracting many new stars of the anti-retail space.

Among the big-ticket new entrants 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.

Other “grassroots” entrants include Shaktiman Ghosh, a firebrand trade-unionist based in Kolkata and general secretary of the National Hawkers Federation, and Mahendra Singh Tikait, who came to Delhi with 20,000 farmers last month to formally announce an alliance with the NMRD.

The key to the biggest victory staged by the movement in Uttar Pradesh has been B L Kanchal, a Rajya Sabha MP representing the Samajwadi Party. He also heads the Rashtriya Vyapar Mandal that mobilised people to storm the Reliance Fresh and RPG Enterprises’ Spencer’s outlets in Lucknow.

The same organisation went on to gather around 300 traders and fruit and vegetable vendors in east Delhi that resulted in Reliance Fresh downing its shutters for around an hour.

These kinds of successes are encouraging more organisations to sign up and raising the pitch of the protests. Ghosh said: “Corporate retail will hit the hawker in his stomach. It will take away his livelihood. That is why four crore hawkers, including two crore food vendors, are at the forefront of this movement.”

With a cart as a logo of the movement, the partners are all raring to go for their next fight. “We will burn down the next mall that is set up in Kolkata,” threatens Ghosh. October 10, clearly, is just a taste of things to come.

Social activist Vandana Shiva talks to Sreelatha Menon on the protest against big retailers

Why is the movement against big retail almost like a movement against Reliance? Why do you spare the Big Bazaars, Spencer’s or Subhikshas?

You can’t equate a chain like Spencer’s, with five shops in the whole country, with Reliance, which can open 5,000 outlets in a single city.

You have to choose targets in a movement – the ones that have the potential to do the greatest harm have to be the targets. You have to divide the giants from the small ones.

But Big Bazaar is big…

No, it is not present everywhere. Reliance is coming to every tiny town. But let me add that when we started the movement two years ago, neither Bharti nor Reliance was in the picture.

We built a broad alliance against foreign direct investment in retail. Reliance came in later and began its propaganda that it was organised retail versus unorganised retail.

Doesn’t Navdanya sell its products through some of these big stores?

Never. Wal-Mart had offered to stock our products, I had a request from Reliance too. But I refused. We are the biggest network of organic farmers and people sell through our five outlets.

This is a Rediff report