Boycott of China goods: It isn't business as usual in Delhi's wholesale markets
Traders are trying to pander to what they feel are 'public sentiment' and have erased the 'Made in China' labels from various goods.
But a week before Diwali, the chances of getting crushed by the sheer multitudes are high, as is the possibility of getting hit by two-wheelers. However, nothing deters the thousands of Delhi’s bargain hunters.
Colourful plastic decorations, tiny images of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi and candles and diyas are on display at makeshift stalls, and over-enthusiastic sellers are trying to grab eyeballs.
The bedlam is a familiar feature every year around Diwali. What’s different this time, however, is the shadow of a boycott of Chinese goods that looms over both Sadar Bazar and the adjoining Chandni Chowk — the largest Diwali markets in northern India.
Also read: Why the threat of a boycott of Chinese products is more bark than bite
Traders are trying to pander to what they feel are “public sentiment” and have erased the “Made in China” labels from various goods, including decorative lamps and candles. Dig a little deeper and a feeling of resentment is evident about the lack of any formal government policy or directive about Chinese products. The dealers have imported goods worth crores of rupees over the last few months and the calls for a boycott of Chinese goods are hitting them hard. Beneath the festive enthusiasm, it’s not really business as usual.
No surprise that the largest crowd is by the rows of fireworks shops on either side of the road. A family of four comes in to haggle about anars and patakas — but they’re not pinching pennies, eventually notching up a bill of thousands of rupees. But Girish Jain, the owner of the shop, is not very upbeat. “This year sales are not picking up and we’re not getting as many buyers as we usually do,” he says. Sales of fireworks though are not impacted by the anti-Chinese sentiment among buyers, since fireworks from China were banned two years back by the Delhi government because of fire hazards.
“We are more concerned about the fall in sales of fireworks made in India by at least 10% this year because of the overall economic downturn. Further, school kids are shunning crackers in large numbers as they are being told that these are harmful,” says Narendra Gupta, president of the Fireworks Traders’ Association of Sadar Bazar. He, however, adds that unregulated Chinese products are being sold in the grey market through makeshift stalls that often pose fire hazards when people carelessly throw away cigarette stubs and matches.
A Dim Diwali?
Rakesh Yadav, president of the Federation of Sadar Bazar Traders Association, too, is concerned about the lack of adequate police personnel in the market, which leads to fire hazards and also petty crimes. “Many temporary and illegal structures have come up, causing confusion, and given the huge crowds we see in this market, the authorities need to be more alert. We have been raising these issues every year but they have not been looked into,” he says, adding that this year the informal boycott of Chinese goods is also hitting traders very hard.
“Business worth about Rs 30,000 crore is done at our markets during the festive season and we obviously plan our imports schedule a year in advance. The government should clearly spell out its policy regarding Chinese goods since many of the products such as electronics, light decorations and toys are favourites during Diwali but no one in India manufactures them,” he says, adding that rumours in the markets around Chinese goods has led to around 30% drop in sales.
Neeti Grover, a homemaker from south Delhi, agrees that a knee-jerk boycott of Chinese goods is detrimental to small traders in Delhi’s markets and will have no impact at all on Chinese manufacturers. “Personally, I like to buy traditional handcrafted gifts during Diwali. Every year I visit the popular Blind School Diwali mela, which is packed this time with such unique items,” says Grover who will be lighting 18 candles for the Uri martyrs on Diwali this year.
That’s a better way to show respect, she feels, than boycotting Chinese imports. Bhagirath Palace, a decorative lights market, is just a stone’s throw from the iconic Red Fort. Ravinder K Gupta, secretary of the Delhi Electrical Traders Association, has an electronics goods shop, set up by his grandfather in the early 1960s. “There is no alternative to Chinese-made lights, which everyone uses during Diwali. But still we have seen a 30% drop in sales this year because of this anti-Chinese sentiment,” he says. Some people are using lights manufactured by prominent MNCs and Indian brands instead of Chinese lights, he adds. The irony, according to him, is that almost all the companies source their products from China. “The supplies too are lower this year because imports were hit by high dollar rates,” says Gupta.
Suchita Salwan, cofounder of curated city and lifestyle guide Little Black Book, feels that traditional markets such as Chandni Chowk and Sadar Bazar are probably losing customers because of infrastructure issues such as bad traffic and poor parking facilities rather than an anti-Chinese sentiment. “Young urban professionals are looking for unique gifts and decorations and don’t want to get into the hassle of driving to congested markets.
There are many Diwali bazaars and melas across the city which offer arts and crafts that showcase local talent and are unique and make for great personalised gifts,” says Salwan.