After lockdown, dragon stings Delhi traders now

‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ call to reduce dependence on Chinese  imports has enthused many. but businessmen in Delhi fear  that the campaign may backfire, reports siddhanta mishra
A huge crowd throng Sadar Bazaar in New Delhi  to buy festive goods;
A huge crowd throng Sadar Bazaar in New Delhi to buy festive goods;

First, they were dealt with a heavy blow of the Covid-19 lockdown. Then, comes the government’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant) campaign — a nationwide call to reduce dependence on imports, especially from China, in the wake of the violent face-off between the Indian Army and China’s PLA troops in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh. Traders and businessmen in the national capital have now begun asking whether it is reasonable to completely shun the import of China-made products.

The traders complain that there has been a sharp decline in the sales of automobiles and electronic items such as cellphones, televisions, computers and laptops. And with a series of festivals, beginning with Raksha Bandhan, lined up for the next few months, they fear that the campaign might cause a large-scale business loss. According to market experts, approximately trade worth up to Rs 40,000 crore takes places in this festival season across India, out of which up to Rs 22,000 crore business is China-dominated. In Delhi alone, trade worth Rs 2,300 crore takes place during Raksha Bandhan. 

The rakhis from Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar are sold all over the country, the market is not decorated with China-made bright rakhis as it used to be in previous years.  According to the Confederation of All Indian Traders (CAIT), India’s largest trader’s body,  every year trade of more than Rs 6,000 crore takes place over the festival. China’s portion of this trade is around Rs 4,000 crore. It is this business that the traders’ body has planned to bring down to zero.

a Pakistan refugee displays rakhis 
made for soldiers ahead of the Raksha Bandhan festival near Majnu ka Tilla

Delhi traders selling Chinese products are in a dilemma. On one hand, they want to advocate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat call. On the other hand, they can’t afford to incur more losses, especially in the festive season.  The overreliance on Chinese imports has tied the hands of many business owners, while a few others support the idea of a complete ban. Around 3,000 items, ranging from finished goods, raw material to spare parts and technology, are imported from China at present, and banning them overnight would be a big blow for the traders. Since the Galwan Valley skirmish, which led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers, several traders’ organisations have protested against Beijing and demanded a complete boycott of Chinese products, but Mahinder Aggarwal, president of All Delhi Computer Traders Association (ADCTA), believes it won’t be possible so quickly.

“Ninety-per cent business of electronic items in India is dominated by Chinese imports. The traders have decided to boycott Chinese products, but the government, too, needs to help us. A clear roadmap with policies and rules implemented in time to promote small and medium businesses needs to be done. Only then, we can achieve the target of China-free markets,” says Aggarwal. The Covid-19 pandemic and unparalleled protective measures taken by the government to stem its spread have severely impacted economic activity at Nehru Place market, Asia’s largest computer and electronic market. 

women purchase rakhi at Sadar Bazaar in Gurugram | Shekhar Yadav/PTI
women purchase rakhi at Sadar Bazaar in Gurugram | Shekhar Yadav/PTI

Now, with a wave of anti-Chinese anger is cresting in the national capital, Aggarwal who owns a shop at the market says, the business has gone for a toss due to problems in the supply chain from China. According to him, while the demand for electronic items has increased during the pandemic, the supply has been very slow. “The government recently increased the customs duty on imports from China by 30 per cent. Now, the people who have already made full payments for electronic spare parts and computer components are unable to receive their packages from the airport.

We are facing a huge shortage in supply,” adds the ADCTA president. The city alone trades approximately 10,000 computer items per day. Most local bodies such as the New Delhi Traders Association and Defence Colony Market Association have given the call to boycott Chinese products to make the dragon spineless.  Brajesh Goyal, president of the Chamber of Trade and Industry (CTI), says it is time for a strategic ban on Chinese goods. “The first step that the government should take is to restrict those Chinese goods which are already made in India or can be easily made in the country without importing anything from China. Indian manufacturers need little support to substitute the Chinese import for these items” says Goyal.

But traders, according to Goyal, will have to make some sacrifices to make this movement successful. From India-made ‘Rafale Rakhi’ to t-shirts printed with ‘this Diwali no Chinese products’, few traders are hitting the streets to create more awareness among people about the campaign. Praveen Khandelwal, president of the CAIT, which had started the campaign, says this time the traders have made up their minds that they won’t import anything from China. “We are getting good response from the public who are also not willing to buy made in China goods. This is a great opportunity to promote our made in India items,” says Khandelwal. The CAIT has set a target to reduce China’s business by `1 lakh crore in Indian markets.

“Currently, everything that we buy has Chinese links. China has grown its trade exponentially in India in the last decade. The festivals lined up for the next few months will be a real challenge for the traders. By promoting the government’s initiative of ‘vocal for local’, many of our artisans and craftsmen would get an opportunity to reach out to every corner of the country. In Delhi, traders are ready to work with the government,” adds Khandelwal. The Defence Colony Residents Welfare Association was one of the first group of citizens to begin demonstrations against sale of China-made products after the violent face-off. Rajinder Malik, president of the Defence Colony Market Association, says: “Many traders have already procured their supply from China.

Now, they have no other option but to sell them. But we have resolved that there will be no fresh imports from China.”  The Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association of India (TEMA), has welcomed the Modi government’s move to ban the 59 Chinese mobile apps. “Now, we request the government to make the Public Procurement (Preference to Make in India) applicable to the private sector, including all telecom operators, as well. The countrywide PPP-MII will create a strong foundation for Indian brands to fulfil the mission of Atmanirbhar Bharat in telecom manufacturing,” says NK Goyal, chairman emeritus, TEMA.

While the government has banned popular apps such as TikTok, Shareit and UC Browser, doctors fear that there could be an adverse impact on some youth. Dr Mohit Sharma, a senior resident at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), says the move could lead to cause problems like depression among some youngsters. Last month, an 18-year-old TikTok star, a student of the Delhi University, died by suicide. No suicide note was discovered but reports suggested that the ban on TikTok could have pushed her to take her life. 

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