The anti-China sentiment that had raged after the Galwan clash appears to have faded away, with local wholesale markets flooded with cheap imports from the neighbouring country ahead of the festival of lights. This is the first of a three-part series.
The dark and narrow bylanes of Bhagirath Palace, Delhi’s biggest wholesale electronics market, in Chandni Chowk, are humming with activity. Everywhere men bustle about carrying cartons of lights as customers make their way from shop to shop, tempos unload stocks and traders haggle over prices.
A walk through the market reveals it to be flooded with cheap Chinese lights devoid of a warranty. This, even as calls continue from the ruling party and the top government leadership to focus on ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ and boycott Chinese Goods.
There are rows of shops selling fairy lights, LED bulbs, electric lamps, paper lamps, candles, multi-colour bulbs and other decorative lights with ‘Made in China’ stickers on them. And consumers are flocking to these shops for one simple reason: price.
Not walking the talk
Moneycontrol spent a day at the Bhagirath Palace market as well as neighbouring Sadar Bazaar and spoke to shopowners and consumers. In the aftermath of clashes between Indian and Chinese military forces, calls went out to boycott Chinese goods. The Indian government also took steps to ramp up production of high-end electronic products, active pharmaceutical ingredients and other items by Indian manufacturers — items for which India has been heavily dependent on Chinese exports. There were also additional layers of scrutiny institutionalised for investments from China.
However, when it comes to cheap, low-end products, Chinese items still rule the roost.
Akanksha, who was shopping for decorative lights at the Bhagirath Palace, says: “It never really struck me to ask for ‘Made in India’ lights. While I did come across a few Made in India lamps, those are a lot more expensive than the Chinese ones.”
“I definitely look for durability while shopping but if the Chinese lights last only one Diwali, it wouldn’t really burn a whole in my pocket,” she adds.
In many ways, the influx of Chinese goods in Diwali markets is surprising because of the greater scrutiny and consequent delays by Indian authorities. Ultimately, it boils down to the singular character of the pricing behaviour of Indian consumers.
Explaining why the Chinese lights are ruling the market, Nitin Mishra, owner of Phool Electricals, says: “A 30-metre Chinese fairy light will cost you Rs 45 whereas a locally produced light of the same length costs around Rs 130. So, naturally people opt for the Chinese ones.”
At Bright Lights Center, a wholesale trading shop, owner Prashant says that he never receives bulk orders for Indian lights in any year. “This year is no different,” he adds.
Vijay Kashyap, a kirana store owner from Uttam Nagar who was at Bright Lights Center, said: “I barely get 2-3 customers a week asking for Made in India lights but after comparing the price, they too opt for Chinese lights. Our Indian lights can never be a match to the Chinese in terms of price.”
China happens to be India’s second-biggest trading partner. Trade between the two countries was worth $87 billion in the fiscal year ended March 2019, with a trade deficit of $53.57 billion skewed in China’s favour, according to government estimates. The government has in recent months launched measures to prevent trade partners in Southeast Asia from routing Chinese goods to India with more stringent disclosures and more frequent checks. Those actions seem to have little effect on the flooding of goods in Diwali markets.
Quality comes at a price
At RK International, posters of Make in India adorn the wall and entrance of the shop. Deepak Aggarwal and Mayank Gupta are second-generation owners of the store. The latter’s son Ayush Gupta, 27, says: “We are among the few people here with Made in India lights. We have stocks of single, and multicolour Indian lights but there are hardly any buyers.”
“We want to sell the Indian alternatives, but the problem is the Indian lights have good quality copper wires, which are expensive. Also, people usually opt for string lights for Diwali whereas the Indian companies make bulbs and fancy lamps,” he adds.
Father-son duo Ashwani Jain and Shashi have been running New Pushpak Traders at Lajpat Rai Market and Bhagirath Palace for 35 years. Explaining the growing fad for Made in India products, Ashwani Jain, 57, says: “Most of the traders here are simply selling Chinese products in Made in India boxes. A lot of people here are getting the boxes and cartons manufactured in the slums, and these are then filled with lights imported from China.”
Officials from the Delhi Electrical Traders Association (DETA) in Chandni Chowk declined to comment for this story.
At Sadar Bazar, too, the streets are brimming with all kinds of Chinese decorative items. At Khursheed Market in Sadar Bazar, street hawkers can be seen displaying plastic and readymade rangolis, plastic flowers, Diya stands, floating candles, stickers of Indian gods and goddesses on large mats. Items as cheap as Rs 10 can be found here.
Bhola, 26, from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, works as a salesman at Shri Shyam Store in Khursheed Market at Sadar Bazar. He says that almost everything at the shop is Chinese-made. At Lakshmi Super Mart in Sector 8, RK Puram, owner Ashok Khandelwal says he has not had a single customer this year enquiring about the Made in India Diwali lights.
Read Part 2 and Part 3.
Follow the entire series here.