It’s strikeback time. Against the strikeback.
As the battle for Baghdad rages, a curious conflict is unfolding on the streets of Calcutta. Pockets of shopkeeper-consumer resistance against the ‘boycott-Coke-Pepsi’ brigade are coming up in southern neighbourhoods. Distributors of the soft-drink majors are adding to the action, evading the protest patrol on thoroughfares and, instead, using lanes and bylanes.
A group of ultra-Left outfits has been campaigning at Gariahat, Jadavpur and Dhakuria, urging everyone — from passersby to shopkeepers — to shun “Pepsi and Coke and their products” as their mark of protest against American aggression.
Posters — on behalf of the Revolutionary Youth Association (the youth brigade with representatives from several Naxalite outfits said to be behind the glasspane attacks on Nike and Citibank) — have been pasted on walls and shop-shutters across Dhakuria, Haltu, Kasba, Garfa and Jadavpur, urging Calcuttans to “hit the superpower where it hurts”.
The protest against such an anti-war stance came to the fore on Sunday. “The protesters found themselves outnumbered by a group that opposed their tactics near Ramlal Bazar, in Haltu,” recounted a Dhakuria-based distributor of Coca-Cola.
“We have told them we will go on selling the soft drinks if distributors carry on supplying the bottles and consumers continue to pick them up,” said Somnath Datta, proprietor of Niharika Stores at Ramlal Bazar.
Shanti Mandal of Ujjwal Stores, in Jadavpur, agreed: “Coke and Pepsi products form a huge chunk of sales and so we cannot afford to stop selling them.”
The proprietor of a neighbouring shop, P.K. Ray, said the protest path defied logic. “These two firms employ so many Indians. I, the person selling their products, am an Indian and so is the consumer. Are we not hurting ourselves when we are claiming to hurt the Americans'”
But distributors and salespersons, easily identified by the logos on the vehicles and their uniforms, are choosing safe over sorry. “I have told my driver to keep off the prominent roads and, instead, opt for the smaller lanes,” explained a south Calcutta distributor of Coca-Cola.
The protests against the protests, however, have enthused distributors and stockists. Sanjiv Bhargav, spokesperson for Coca-Cola’s Narendrapur-based distributing agency, said: “People must understand that they (the boycott brigade) will end up destroying the livelihood of millions of Indians. Besides, people should be allowed to exercise their choice.”