India set for nationwide strike
Millions of Indian shopkeepers, traders and lorry drivers are expected to protest against retail reforms.
Arrival in India of chains such as Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco is expected to herald a consumer revolution [Reuters]
Millions of Indian shopkeepers, traders and lorry drivers are expected to join a nationwide strike to protest against reforms including allowing in foreign supermarkets such as Walmart.
Opposition parties and trade unions called for a strike on Thursday after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week announced a raft of reforms designed to revive India's slowing economy in a move that has sparked a furious backlash.
The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) forecast that 50 million people would participate in the protest, with large demonstrations planned in the capital New Delhi and scores of other cities.
Many small business owners and workers fear that the arrival of largescale supermarket chains will lead to drastic job losses as India's supply chains and shopping habits are transformed.
'People are angry'
"Multinational companies will destroy the economic and social fabric of the country and will adversely impact traders, transporters, farmers and other sections of retail trade," CAIT secretary-general Praveen Khandelwal said.
"My business will suffer very much. People are going to go to big stores because they can get everything in one place"
- Surinder Kumar Arora,
Grocery store owner
Singh has been buffeted by reaction to the retail reforms and a sharp rise in diesel prices, with a key coalition party quitting the government and demanding the policies are reversed.
"People are supporting us in this strike because they are angry at the recent decisions of the government," said Prakash Javedkar, a spokesperson of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"The prime minister must resign and we are pressing for this."
The arrival in India of international chains such as Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco is expected to herald a consumer revolution with shoppers moving from small, neighbourhood stores to large, out-of-town supermarkets.
"My business will suffer very much. People are going to go to big stores because they can get everything in one place," Surinder Kumar Arora, who operates a family-run grocer in south Delhi's Bhogal market, told the AFP news agency.
Indian anger over economic woes [Al Jazeera]
"We want to go on strike because shopkeepers in India are going to lose business," said fellow trader Deepak Sethi, 35, whose store opened 45 years ago.
"These big companies can attract customers by selling at cost prices. That means people here are going to lose jobs. Shops like ours will be hit the most."
Singh and many industry leaders argue that a modern retail system would improve value and choice for Indian consumers, create new jobs and enable farmers to reduce wastage.
But the government, weakened by the worst quarterly GDP figures in three years and a series of corruption scandals, faces a major challenge to push through the reforms and boost the economy before elections due in 2014.
Millions of lorry and bus drivers are also expected to strike on Thursday over a 12-per cent hike in subsidised diesel prices as the government tries to tackle its widening fiscal deficit.
"We want to let people know what this government has done to us by raising prices," Gurinder Pal Singh, a senior member of the All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), told AFP.