Mumbai (AsiaNews/Agencies) - India's government
is in trouble after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved a plan on Friday to
open the country's retail sector to global supermarket chains. West Bengal Chief
Minister Mamata Banerjee, head of the Trinamool Congress, a powerful member of
the governing United Progressive Alliance (UPA), expressed her opposition to
the plan in the strongest terms, saying it would hurt small Indian retailers. For
this reason, she said she would have to make hard choices if the central
government did not reverse itself by tomorrow.
Banerjee's cryptic remarks have left
public opinion confused. For some, the Trinamool Congress will leave the UPA if
the liberalisation of the retail sector goes ahead. This would weaken the
Congress Party in favour of the main opposition party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP).
However, one of Banerjee's close
advisers, Kunal Gosh, said the rumours were baseless, reiterating the Trinamool
Congress's support for the UPA administration.
According to the plan, global companies could
hold 51 per cent in foreign direct investment in the multi-brand retail sector,
giants like Carrefour and Wal-Mart, and 100 per cent in single-brand retailers
like Nokia and Reebok. At present, such players can only sell wholesale, not directly
Singh's plan is not new. In November of
last year, the government tried to push through similar changes, but it fell
through even before it could take off because of opposition within and without
the UPA coalition.
If the prime minister pulls it off this
time, it would represent a fundamental shift for India and this for various
reasons. India has one of the faster growing retail markets, estimated at US$
450 billion, in a system that employs about 40 million people with most retail
business done by small merchants.