December 1st, 2011
12:21 PM GMT
New Delhi, India (CNN) – Traders shuttered shops and markets through India Thursday to protest the federal announcement to open the country's $450 billion retail market to foreign competition.
The move came as lawmakers opposed to the plan paralyzed the national parliament for yet another day.
"Our strike shows how angry indigenous traders are," said Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), which led slogan-shouting demonstrations in New Delhi.
He said the arrival of global supermarkets would eliminate millions of small businesses. "This number (of small traders) is 200 million and they are dependent on 50 million establishments across the country. Because of these multinationals, these people will have to sell out their jobs. If not now, maybe five to 10 years later," Khandelwal said.
In the Indian capital, major wholesale and retail markets stayed closed as part of the CAIT's call for the day long, nationwide shutdown. Unlike big marketplaces, many residential neighborhood shops remained opened as usual in the city ruled by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress party.
Traders held sit-ins and street protests across the country, demanding reversal of the government's decision to free up the country's long-protected retail sector.
The strikes are piling pressure on Singh's administration to backtrack on its latest liberalization program. So far, it has refused to budge.
Uproar by lawmakers from opposition parties as well as from within Singh's coalition government has led to a stalemate in parliament, which is sitting for its winter session.
The impasse has also been stalling key legislative business, including the passage of an anti-corruption bill. No political consensus until now has emerged to end the deadlock over the retail reform.
Singh has defended the retail reform decision, calling it “well considered.”
His government says the move will help curb inflation. Further, the country’s commerce ministry forecasts an increase of 1.5 million front line jobs over the next five years, with the additional back office jobs pushing that number up to 1.7 million.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the nation's top business lobby, hailed the move toward foreign investment in retail as a "360-degree advantage" for the country.
But Singh faces ongoing resistance. Few regions in a country of 1.2 billion consumers have been supportive of the government's new retail policy.
And the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is also in power in several states, is demanding an immediate reversal of the regulation.
Thursday's shutdown was more pronounced in provinces governed by groupings opposed to retail liberalization. It was partial in states run by Congress.
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