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Monday, 28 September 1998

MNC Bashing: Playing Chicken with the Economy


(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


Lizards have a trick of shedding their tails when in danger. The
animal chasing them gets diverted by the wiggling castaway,
and the lizard escapes. In like fashion, instead of pursuing the
terrorist monster threatening the land, the Hindutva champions
are getting diverted by a wiggly "tail" of an issue—Kentucky
Fried Chicken. Not that one should blame them, it is less
dangerous to attack two pieces of chicken on a plastic plate than
to, say, organise anti-terrorist demonstrations in Sopore or
Srinagar.

Those familiar with the hygiene conditions in Delhi’s
eateries—and obviously Madan Lal Khurana is not one of
them—may wonder why KFC was shut down rather than given
an award because only two flies were found in its New Delhi
outlet. Most of the rest have a larger number per square foot.
More importantly, by making Delhi—and India—an international
joke, the Hindutva crusaders should be awarded the Nishan-e-
Pakistan, having furthered one of the primary objectives of the
Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of derailing the developing
economic ties between India and the US. ISI strategists fear that
should such links develop, a lobby could form in the US which 
would reverse the traditionally pro-Pakistan tilt of the State
Department and the Pentagon.

This is not to deny the fact that the Clinton tilt is responsible
for KFC'S woes. It is no coincidence that after more than four
years of economic liberalisation, only during the past year has
there been a surge in anti-MNC (specifically anti-US) sentiment.
This is the result of the US policy towards New Delhi and
Islamabad, a policy which is about as ”non-aligned" as Cuba’s
was during the period when the USSR was still around. Pakistan
is given critical defence equipment but not India. Islamabad can
arm and train terrorists to wage a war against this country, but
India should not protest. Abdul Ghani Lone can meet key US
officials who, if Lone is to be believed, encourage him to break
up the Indian Union, but Altaf Hussain, despite avoiding any
talk of secession from Pakistan, is kept at arm's length lest
"Pinky" (Benazir Bhutto) minds.

And yet, despite the Clinton administrations bias, opposing
KFC and other US companies because of Clinton’s military help
to Islamabad makes about as much sense as the 1928-33 line of
the German Communist party that the Nazis and the Social
Democrats were "not antipodes but twins". Thanks to this
policy, much of the time of the comrades was spent in breaking
up socialist meetings and in abusing the SPD in the communist
press. Helped by this internecine war between their two biggest
enemies, the Nazis came to power in 1933 and promptly liquidated
both the socialists and the communists. By punishing KFC and
other US companies operating in India for the misdeeds of the
Clintonites, our Hindutva warriors are antagonising the one
force in the US powerful enough to end Washington's love affair
with Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s stengun-wielding "moderate
democrats".

An investigation into those leading the Chicken War would
show that most have visited the US several times, and many
have children studying there. Barring a few, the lifestyles of most
of them are elitist. Is it to cover this up that they rant about
chicken and flies? It is one thing to demand a "level playing
field" for foreign and domestic industry, another to seek to ban
external competition totally. Such an approach does not take
into account the strengths of local brands. In fast food, for
example, it is highly unlikely that brands such as Nirula's can get
affected by KFC’S entry—unless they are killed by their owners
themselves and are sold out to the foreign competitor, like
Thums Up was. Indeed, brands such as Nirula's have the
potential to go international, just as Taj and Oberoi have already
done in hotels. Crusaders like our chicken fighters may not,
however, appreciate this.

Where India scores over Pakistan is in the fact that it is a
liberal, secular democracy. In the Narasimha Rao era, one of
many beneficial changes is the fact that government is no longer
regarded with awe. Whether in the print media or on celluloid—
as films such as Oh Darling Yeh Hai India exemplify—even the
'PMji' is getting a taste of the lampoon. By their ISI-style
fanaticism, the Hindutva chicken fighters are attempting to wipe
out the difference between a tolerant India and a bigoted
Pakistan.

Yes, there are major threats to Indian security. For this,
antidotes need to be found through the development of defence
systems, not by protecting our intestinal tracts from harmless
chemicals. Lest we forget, the one factor that will keep this 
country from becoming another Bosnia is economic progress.
And the antics of those with flies on the brain is threatening this 
progress almost as much as the ISI fanatics are. 


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