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'Quit Retail' movement gains mass base, rally on Oct 10

Sreelatha Menon & Nayantara Rai  |  New Delhi 

Protest sets sights on Reliance Fresh,
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 (NMRD), the umbrella group for these associations, the protest has set its sights on three corporations: RelianceFresh, 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.
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 RelianceFresh 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 RelianceFresh 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 RelianceFresh 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.

First Published: Wed, October 03 2007. 00:00 IST