MEL - Can you tell us about your organization?
TV - Tamil Nadu Vanigar Sangangalin Peravai (Organization of Trader sangams of Tamil Nadu) has 37 district organizations. Nearly 4000 Sangams are united in this organization. We work not only in defense of the traders' interests, but also in defense of the people's interests.
MEL - What has been the impact of the economic reforms program on small traders?
TV - The program of globalization through privatization and liberalization has had a terrible impact on the livelihood of traders as well as masses of people. It has led to the ruination of many small businessmen and traders. The WTO agreement which our rulers signed despite massive people's opposition has ruined small business and trade.
Prior to liberalization, thousands of local soft drink manufactures with small investments were manufacturing many variety of soft drink. Lakhs of people were engaged in this industry. When the government permitted multinationals such as Coke and Pepsi to manufacture in India, we opposed it. Manmohan Singh and other economists like him told us that we need competition in trading to create a healthy business trend in the country. People will get many more variety of soft drinks of good quality and at much cheaper prices, they said. Initially Pepsi and Coca-cola sold their products very cheap, to wipe out local competition. Our small soft drink manufacturing companies could not withstand the large capital, massive advertisements and unfair trade practices of these big companies. These MNC's provided fridges free of cost to the retail shops. These MNC's went to the retail shops, collected the bottles of the local companies and destroyed them. The local companies were forced to invest more money in bottle and they were pushed into bankruptcy. Today, the only alternative left to the people is to consume poor quality, slow poisoning MNC drinks by paying a huge price. All those who were engaged in the local soft drink business were deprived of their livelihood.
MEL - What is the impact of Liberalization on the retail business?
TV - Central government has taken a decision to permit 51% foreign investments in retail trading business. Soon they will raise this to 75% and 100 %. The retail business will soon be fully captured by the large corporations - Indian and foreign. The government claims that the high prices of food are because of too many middlemen. Manmohan Singh is arguing that large Indian and foreign multinationals in retail trade will eliminate middlemen and ensure low prices of food. It is true that in the beginning intentionally they will sell for lesser prices. As time passes, what happened with Pepsi and Coke will happen in the retail business too.
As a result of trade getting shifted to large corporate retail houses, lakhs of small traders will be thrown onto the streets without livelihood. And once monopolies capture the entire market, they will supply poor quality products at high prices to make maximum profits.
Companies such as Reliance, Big Bazaar, etc. will tie up with foreign retail companies.
Small retail shops are being forced to close down and shift to other businesses such as mobile phone recharging, real estate, etc, Similarly peasants, traders, tailors, jewelry shop owners, are moving out of their traditional vocations.. Many of them become construction workers.
MEL - Can you please elaborate on the two pricing policy of the large corporations?
TV - Large corporations sell their good to retail outlets at different prices. They sell to corporate retail stores at discounts ranging from 10 to 40%. Small retailers get no discount. As a result, the corporate retail stores can sell at a somewhat lower price than the small retailer and still rake in huge profits. People will go where the products are cheaper. They also tend to buy many other items from the same stores which are priced higher than in small retail stores. Through advertising of selected items to be sold at discounted prices, they capture the market and make huge profits.
MEL - What has been the impact of liberalization on agriculture?
TK - As far as the agriculture is concerned, it is mostly the foreign companies which sell seeds. They are also engaged in a big way in trade in agricultural produce. If Indian and foreign multinationals establish their monopoly control over agricultural trade, they will dictate to the peasants what price they will pay for their produce. . They will drive down the income of the peasants and sell the produce through their retail outlets for maximum profits. . Whatever be the business, be it weaving, agriculture, fishing, trading, small manufacturing, telephones, banking, insurance etc, the multinationals are penetrating; they are not doing so to improve the living conditions of our people, but to plunder us.
MEL - What is your view about the WTO?
TV - The British colonialists came as traders and then captured our country .Only after 300 years of struggle could our people throw them out. For a long time, the imperialists have been trying to get India to sign the GATT agreement. Earlier, plunder was through colonization. Today, plunder is being carried out through unequal trade agreements. Various people like Manmohan Singh started propagating that India will benefit through signing the WTO. They were reflecting the interests of the biggest monopoly houses of our country, who want to become world class players by jointly plundering our country in collaboration with the foreign imperialists.
In 1969 the private banks were nationalized. The reason given was that private banks were cheating the public. But now after the WTO, even foreign private banks have entered. Banks are going bankrupt in US itself. Hundreds of banks have gone bust. Here also if those who came and start banks go bankrupt, to whom can we complain? Our rulers are silent on this issue. The entry of foreign banks has been permitted under the WTO.
Subsequent to India signing WTO agreement, we have become a country dependent on imports. Our country is now dependent on imports for the cooking oil. Palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia and Soya bean oil from US are being imported. They want to dump somewhere. India is a suitable for them. Before the WTO regime, we had very good local oil - Sesame oil. Around Chennai thousands of oil crushing stone units were there - Cudallore, Thirvanamalai, Villupuram, Vellore districts. Chennai's oil needs were met by the oil that was produced by these oil crushing stone units. There was a time when that was sufficient. We did not even require the mechanized oil mills. Sesame oil is healthy oil. Palm oil and others are not good for health. Can we not produce and be self sufficient even in cooking oil? Our leaders will not plan for this. If the production cost of oil comes to 80 Rs a Kg, the government allows import of oil at 60 Rs a Kg. People will obviously buy the cheaper one. If an item is already in surplus here, it should not be imported from abroad. Similarly any items which are in short supply must not be exported. This is very simple, if you take the interests of our people into account. But our rulers do not look at it from people's interest, but only that of the big traders. Last year there was onion shortage. The big traders exported onions. Afterwards when the price had gone up to 120 Rs per kg, government imported onions paying a higher price.
Till 1990, our country was largely self reliant. Since then, our rulers have tied themselves in a strategic alliance with the US. Our rulers did not protest when the US invaded Iraq and hanged Saddam Hussain. They are acting as mute spectators while the imperialists are brazenly violating the sovereignty of peoples and nations.
The government is working in the interests of the Indian and foreign multinationals. Take the energy policy - it is dictated not by people's needs, but by the drive of the monopolies for maximum profits. They are investing in nuclear power plants not because it is cheap or safe, but because maximum profits can be made. Even in the case of Hydel power and Wind power, government is buying power from private parties at huge cost. Why should the energy sector be an arena for maximum profits? Why cannot they legislate that the electricity generation can be done only by the government?
Liberalization and privatization policies have opened up more lucrative opportunities for corruption. Our leaders sell the interests of our people and country to the big corporate houses.
The government is working only in the interests of big capitalists - Indian and foreign.
MEL - What do you think traders should do?
TV - We must force the government to reverse the program of globalization through liberalization and privatization.
Those who do not believe this cannot be patriots, they can only be traitors. If someone here says that the foreigners are coming to help our people, then I can only consider him as an enemy of our people.
Traders are seething with anger at the government's economic policies. There are going to be powerful struggles in defence of livelihood and rights. Our leaders are slaves to Anglo American prescriptions on economy and political system. We must break out of this mental slavery and start charting a course for the economy that will be in service of the masses. Liberating our country from the anti people economic policies can alone be a true second liberation struggle. In that struggle everyone must participate.