Saturday, September 22, 2012

Holiday Declared To Trump The Opposition's Strike

Do you have colleagues in India?  Did you try to call a tech support center in India this week?  Chances are, if you answered "Yes" to either of these questions, you found something was amiss this week.  India has lots of government sanctioned holidays; some national, some religious, for all sorts of reasons (link here).  What you don't see on this calendar, is any holiday on FW39, September 17-22 in 2012 (many Indians work Saturday, regularly).  But if you look at the Karnataka state judiciary calendar (link here), you see a peculiar September 19th holiday, called out-of-the-blue.  Why?  Well, the answer surprised me, when my India colleagues and friends explained it to me.

You see, India has lots of parliamentary parties, so they form coalitions so that they can get things done, legislation passed, and are not in a continual state of stalemate.  Recently, a bill was proposed to let BIG BOX stores, like Walmart, to have unfettered access to all of India.  Right now, as I understand it, Walmart and other Western chains are in very few cities, in very limited quantities.  Western corporations are salivating at the multi-billion dollar Indian market, and can't wait to set up shop all across the very diverse nation of a billion+ people.  So the majority party says "we like this free market bill, let's let the BIG BOX stores in".  The minority opposition party, the National Democratic Alliance, which is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says "WTF, wait a minute! This is BAD for Indian farmers and small Indian retailers who will be crushed!"  The BJP doesn't want to see the Walmartization of India decimate small business across their great nation as it already has in America.  So the BJP called for a national strike (link here) on September 20th, to show how unified the country is in opposition to letting in big box stores.  Don't go to work. Don't go to school.  Don't buy anything. Protest peacefully.  Demonstrate that as a united India, we the citizens don't want any part of this, and Parliament should defeat this bill.

You see, 1000s of small Indian farmers have been committing suicide in the Indian countryside (one every 30 minutes, in the last 16 years, crushed by debt - link here), when genetically modified crops from Monsanto, which need more water than the crops they used to plant, fail and the farmers can no longer support themselves.  There's already severe supply chain, bribery, middle-men network, corruption problems across India, that hamper the free flow of goods, from the farmer's field to the grocery store shelf, with everyone taking a cut or pay-out.  Maybe refrigerated Walmart supply train super store trucks would help decrease spoilage and the supply chain, but it would also exert inexorable pressure upon the small farmers to lower their already abysmally low prices even lower, driving more of them out of business, and likely resulting in more suicides, farm failures, food shortages, and maybe even famine.  So I have mixed feelings on the issue... I don't want to see more small farms fail, as NAFTA caused some 3 million small Mexican farms to fail when dirt cheap maize flooded the Mexican market, and many of those out of work farmers headed north to illegally pick crops as migrant workers.  Of course, the xenophobic Alabama legislature passed "show me your crop picking papers" law, and so Alabama farmer's crops are rotting in their fields this fall, but that's what narrow minded Republican ideology provides for citizens.  I digress...  back to India.

So in India, the BJP tells everyone to stay home on the 20th Bharat Bandh.  Well, the Prime minister, who represents the majority party, the ones who love big corporations and globalization, and who are really well funded by international donors, they don't like this "show of unity" so very cleverly, they declare September 19th as a National Holiday!  No one needs to go to work on the 19th!   Stay home, it's a new impromptu National Holiday!   Hooray for everyone!!!

But wait.... no one had bus or train tickets home, to visit their extended families.  No one was prepared to take off the 19th... what the...?  And then, the 21st, which was a Friday.... so we're supposed to take off Wednesday (National Holiday) and 20th (general strike...?) but then the 21st... uhhh?  So many IT firms around Bangalore and other multi-national corporate branches declared the 21st to also be a "holiday" in support of the BJP (link here) .  So in Early September, it looked like there were no holidays coming until October arrives.  And then, all of a sudden, BJP declares a strike for the 20th, the Prime minister declares the 19th to be a holiday, and most big businesses also call off work for the 21st.  A "2 day" work week suddenly materializes, to confuse the European and American counterparts, delay schedules & business commitments, further disrupt everyone's Saturdays (notice the Karnataka court is sitting in session on the 22nd), and try and obfuscate the real issue at hand.  Congrats to the BJP for calling the general strike to prove their point.  Shame on you, Indian central government for calling the impromptu September 19th "holiday"and creating so much confusion. 

I hope it all comes out best for the small Indian farmers and the citizens of India.  You know, those billions of dollars for the Indian market that international corporations are salivating over?  Let them stay in India, for the betterment of Indians.  Please.

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