INDIAN NATIONALISTS SLAM FOREIGN CONSUMER GOODS

INDIAN NATIONALISTS SLAM FOREIGN CONSUMER GOODS

Hindu nationalists, spurred by the cancellation of a big U.S.-built power project, plan to launch a nationwide campaign this week to drive multinationals selling foreign consumer goods out of India.

The Swadesh Jagran Manch, or Forum for National Awakening, said on Monday that Indian consumers and businesses do not need consumer products such as soft drinks made by Coca-Cola Co. or PepsiCo Inc."We do not require any amount of capital in the soft-drink and consumer sector," said P. Muralidhar Rao, SJM organizing secretary. "This is a poor country, and for colored water it does not require capital from foreign countries."

But he said the SJM, which preaches economic nationalism and self- reliance, is not against free-market reforms.

The SJM is a wing of the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh, a group that is close to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, India's main opposition party.

"We are not against international trade or free-market principles, but the country has to decide in what fashion and in what way this mechanism should work," the SJM official told Reuters.

He said SJM was targeting companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola because ''the common man could understand true globalization through the Pepsi experience."

Mr. Rao said the SJM would hold a public meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday to tell the public that foreign consumer goods are "detrimental to our economic interests." Gatherings in other cities would follow, he said.

India was virtually self-sufficient for more than four decades after independence from Britain in 1947 while it pursued socialism. But Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao launched a liberalization drive, gradually opening up India's markets, after winning power in 1991.

Coca-Cola, which was forced out of India in 1977 when it refused to share the recipe for its flagship drink, restarted operations in 1993. PepsiCo entered India in 1990.

SJM had pushed the western state of Maharashtra, ruled by the BJP and its radical right-wing Shiv Sena ally, to scrap a $2.8 billion power plant being built by a U.S. consortium led by Enron Corp. The state quashed the project last week.

"The scrapping of the Enron project is a victory for nationalist forces, and it is an assertion in a way of the Indian masses against multinationals and their working," Mr. Rao said.

He said the government had argued that the entry of multinationals in the consumer-goods sector would lead to technology transfers, an increase in exports and growth in employment.

"We are not experiencing any positive signals in these areas," the SJM official said.

L.K. Advani, BJP president, said on Saturday his party also was opposed to foreign investment in consumer goods.

A Coca-Cola India spokesman said his company was committed to working with domestic bottlers to help the soft-drink industry grow through technology transfer and management expertise.

"The Coca-Cola system in India currently provides direct employment for more than 25,000 local people and indirect employment via sales and marketing and peripheral industries to an estimated 100,000 people," he told Reuters.