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Indian Nationalists Launch Bid to Oust Foreign Goods

August 10, 1995|From Reuters

NEW DELHI — Hindu nationalists launched a campaign Wednesday to drive foreign goods out of India, less than a week after a wealthy western state canceled the country's biggest foreign investment project, a power plant that was being built by Houston-based Enron Corp.

About 100 protesters gathered in the rain in New Delhi, smashing bottles of Pepsi and shouting slogans denouncing the policies of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who opened up the Indian market in 1991.

"Foreigners go home!" screamed right-wing activists from the Forum for National Awakening.

Protesters vented their anger mainly at PepsiCo Inc., one of the best-known foreign companies. They burned a poster showing a Pepsi bottle topped by a hat bearing a U.S. flag, and they passed out pamphlets reading "Declaration of War" and "Pepsi Leave India."

The demonstrators stood beside a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the nation's spiritual father, who preached economic nationalism and, 53 years ago to the day, launched the Quit India movement that culminated in India's independence from Britain in 1947.

The towering gray memorial depicts Gandhi leading protesters on the famous Salt March. The 1930 protest against a British tax on salt is considered one of the most successful and potent examples of Gandhi's nonviolent movement.

"Today is symbolic," said Murli Manohar Joshi, former president of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. "It is symbolic of the dangers to India and the need to protect India's political and economic independence."

The Forum for National Awakening has links with the BJP, the main opposition party in Parliament.

PepsiCo defended its presence in India. A company spokesman said the firm employs 2,000 people there directly and 30,000 indirectly, has invested $160 million in six years, brought in $50 million in foreign exchange in three years and will export $65 million worth of goods this year.

"Our operations are totally Indian," the spokesman said. "Our bottles, crates, trucks, tomatoes are all made in India."

The Hindu nationalists say their longstanding campaign against foreign goods was boosted by the cancellation last week of the $2.8-billion power project led by Enron in the western state of Maharashtra.

The BJP and its radical right-wing governing partner in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena party, said the plant--India's biggest foreign-investment project--was too costly and was negotiated behind closed doors without competitive bidding.

The government of Maharashtra, India's richest state, said Wednesday that it will not renegotiate the deal for better terms.

"We will not negotiate or allow Enron into Maharashtra again. Our decision is firm and binding," the Press Trust of India quoted Manohar Joshi as telling reporters in Bombay, the state's capital and India's financial center.

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