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Reliance pauses in retail foray

Calcutta, Aug. 27: Reliance Retail will wait for an assurance against vandalism before rolling out its stores in Bengal, company sources said.

An intriguing element was added with the CPM smelling the hand of “some other forces” behind the attacks on Reliance Fresh outlets that were being given the finishing touches.

“We want to be completely sure that once we open a store, it won’t get vandalised,” Reuters quoted Reliance Retail chief executive Raghu Pillai as saying.

The sources said Reliance’s cautious approach did not suggest a rethink but the company would use the time to “let things cool off” and try to remove the misgivings of parties opposing the foray.

Reliance Retail was planning to open several shops in and around Calcutta this month. Supporters of the Forward Bloc, the Left Front constituent that fears losing control over farm products marketing if big investors step in, had smashed the glass façade of an outlet in Girish Park.

The next day, Trinamul activists targeted a store in Uttarpara. The Girish Park property again came under attack yesterday, this time from the BJP.

The Bengal attacks had coincided with a flare-up in Uttar Pradesh, prompting the Mayavati government to shut Reliance stores in Lucknow and Varanasi. The closure has allowed Reliance’s rivals to do brisk business.

The Bengal government and the CPM took some steps to address Reliance’s concerns today. Police pickets have been posted outside the Girish Park store and the CPM state leadership condemned the attacks.

“It is not clear why Reliance has been singled out for vandalism while other private sector players are allowed to open shop in retail. Maybe some other forces are behind the anti-Reliance protests. But we consider it a fascist kind of agitation,’’ CPM state secretariat member Benoy Konar said.

Konar did not identify the “forces” but vandalism and such dirty tricks have often been blamed on corporate rivalry.

The CPM would hold a bilateral meeting with the Bloc on Reliance next month, he added.

Asked if he would be meeting representatives of the company, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was silent for a minute and said: “I have it in my…. It is in my knowledge.”

The Bloc remained unrepentant, claiming that the “Reliance retreat is the victory of small traders”.

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