The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kerala cans American cola, sips mango juice

Thiruvananthapuram, April 7: American and British goods are facing the heat of the US-led war on Iraq in Kerala.

The Anti-War Forum, a loose grouping of over 250 political parties and organisations in the state — most with a Left orientation — has launched a boycott campaign against the goods.

It appears to be having a telling effect as traders estimated a “more than 50 per cent drop in the sale of these items” over the past 10 days. Beverages such as Coke and Pepsi have been particularly badly hit.

The forum has announced it will convert Kerala into a Coca Cola-Pepsi-free zone by April 13. The goal appears within reach as the forum has widespread support among the people and intellectuals such as jurist V.R. Krishna Iyer and litterateur M.T. Vasudevan Nair.

Wholesalers and retailers have refrained from picking up new stock of US and British products apparently for fear of a backlash.

“We are no longer stocking US or British products. The campaign against these products by Left organisations is very aggressive and a lot of customers are rejecting them voluntarily, too,” said a major wholesaler here.

A distributor in south Kerala, who refused to be named, said: “Our sales have been hit by more than 50 per cent in the last one week. There has been very little demand for fresh stocks. It has all been so sudden and drastic that I am not really able to tell what might be the situation after April 13. One should not be surprised if the state really becomes Coke-and Pepsi-free.”

According to retailers in several parts of Kerala, some of their customers are demanding substitutes for the products listed on the boycott roster.

“I have my shop in a residential area. Most of my customers are regulars who settle the accounts monthly for daily purchases. Four families have given me a fresh list of items to be substituted for items on the boycott list,” said Haridas, a department store owner in the state capital. “For example, they have said toothpastes like Colgate or Pepsodent should be replaced by the Indian herbal product Neem.”

“If their children ask me for a bottle of Coke, I have been told to give them locally-bottled mango juice,” he said.

The forum has gone on a shop-to-shop campaign to persuade traders against stocking products of US companies. Even house-to-house visits have been carried out across Kerala to persuade people against buying US products.

The authorities of companies such as Coca-Cola in India are alarmed at the trend in Kerala, one of India’s most consumerist states with an approximate population of 30 million.

“We have divested 49 per cent of the company’s equity for operations in India. We have 1 million retail suppliers of our products here. In the event of a boycott, it is the Indian economy that will be hit,” Sunil Gupta, vice-president, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd, told reporters.

“We plan to invest $100 billion in India this year towards infrastructure building. Forty per cent of this money is to be spent in southern India, which includes Kerala. So the boycott call on Coca-Cola by the people of Kerala is in effect a call to boycott Kerala’s own development,” he said.

The forum convenor, Thomas Isaac, who is a CPM legislator, said their campaign’s objective is to effectively channel society’s anti-war sentiments by motivating the people of Kerala to boycott US- and UK-made products.

“We do not have any illusions of inflicting a severe blow on the US economy by boycotting Coca-Cola. It is our way of protesting against America’s attitude to other nations,” he said.

“Coca-Cola is a symbol of America’s rash and irrational culture. Its boycott is a political statement by which the people of Kerala register their protest against the war that America is waging on Iraq,” Isaac said.

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