INDIA: Pepsi, Coke Vanish as Anti-U.S. Feeling Grows in State
IPS - April 14, 2003
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India, Apr 14 (IPS) - 'Bottled America', as
represented by Pepsi and Coke, has vanished from grocery stores and
outlets in India's southern Kerala state, thanks to an increasingly
popular campaign to boycott goods associated with the perpetrators of the
war in Iraq.
''Our aim is to make Kerala a 'Pepsi-Coke-Free Zone'' from this week
onwards, said Dr B. Ekbal, distinguished medical scientist and vice
chancellor of Kerala University who is one of the leaders of the national
In Kerala, the Anti-War Forum led by communist leader Thomas Isaac had
set Apr. 13 as the last day for retailers to be dealing with Pepsi and
Coke, having allowed them to exhaust all existing stock by that date.
The 'shop-to shop' campaign received enthusiastic support from the
Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and the All-India Youth
Federation (AIYF) wings of the communist Left Front, which is powerful in
this highly literate, pro-socialist state.
According to DYFI leader Vasanthan (one name), the movement has so far
been 'peaceful and voluntary', though Coke and Pepsi officials have
complained about the use of coercive methods to stop retailers from
selling the beverages and goods made by the Indian subsidiary of the
Vasanthan, however, warned that in the ''second phase'' of the movement,
those who stock these products can expect ''direct action'', which means
forcible seizures and public destruction of the drinks as well as other
items bearing U.S. or British labels.
''We have not resorted to any pressure tactics. All that we have done is
to carry out a shop-to-shop campaign to mobilise support for the cause,''
said, Isaac, who is credited with a successful movement to devolve power
to local bodies in Kerala.
But officials at NJ Business Corp, the main distributor for Coke in
Kerala, said shopkeepers were not placing fresh orders out of fear rather
than any real anti-war sentiment.
Last week, activists of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Red Flag faction
ransacked the main marketing centre of Coca Cola at Kozhikode in North
Kerala and later symbolically dumped stocks into the sea.
In a statement, the party asked distributors not to deal in Coca-Cola and
Pepsi as these ''contain the blood of innocent children of Iraq''.
An unlikely partner of the communists in the anti-war movement is the
conservative Muslim Jamaath (congregation). In districts dominated by the
Muslim community such as Malappuram and Kozhikode, the boycott call has
registered an early and complete success. A Muslim Jamath spokesman also
said that a ''sizeable section'' of the business community, mostly
Muslims, had willingly given up sale of boycotted goods. ''We do not have
to compel or even persuade the shopkeepers them.''
Also joining in the boycott were activists of Manushi, a women's welfare
cooperative which staged several protests in front of the premises of
major stories, including those where the effigies of U.S. President
George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were burned.
Said Jameela Mankavau, secretary of Manushi: ''If everybody pulls
together we can make a dent on the multinationals and make our voices
Large stockists who were waiting to cash in on large-volume sales of
softdrinks with the onset of the summer months are still hopeful that the
boycott would ease off, but they are not taking any chances.
Said Raju Menon, manager of Spencers Food World in the state capital:
''We have not placed any fresh orders with the manufacturers (of Pepsi
and Coke) and are waiting and watching to see how things turn out.''
But that might be a long wait given that the AIYF has announced plans to
permanently shut down local bottling units of the Hindustan Coca Cola
Beverages Co, and Pepsi Foods, the Indian subsidiaries of the
''This is not only a campaign against products of British and American
transnationals but against foreign capital coming here in the name of
globalisation,'' Vasanthan said. Already, a Coke bottling plant in
Plachimada, in the largely tribal Palghat district, has been mired in
controversy with activist groups accusing it of depleting the sweet water
resources and depriving local people of drinking water.
Last week, a 'panchayat' (village council) declared that it would not
renew the license granted to Coke to set up and operate a bottling plant
in Plachimada on the grounds of ''over-exploiting water resources''.
Coke officials were quoted in local newspapers as saying that they had
not been informed of any resolution passed by the 'panchayat' against the
renewal of the licence, which expired on Mar. 31.
''We applied for renewal of licence on February 26 and remitted the
necessary fee by pay order which the 'panchayat' had acknowledged,'' they
Last year, thousands of irate protesters, consisting mostly of indigenous
people and 'dalit' (oppressed castes), gathered at the gates of the Coca
Cola factory at Plachimada to protest against indiscriminate mining of
To placate the protesters, the factory had then supplied truckloads of
water to two of the worst-affected villages but the protests continued
until local police resorted to brutal cane-charges on complaints from the
Until the factory came up, Plachimada had ample water resources and local
residents complain that what groundwater is yet available in their wells
has turned brackish and become unfit for drinking, cooking and bathing
because of effluents form the plant.
Now with the prospect of the plant being shut down because of the
anti-war boycott, the residents of Plachimada hope that their water
resources will finally be restored to them. (END/2003)