By Vinaya Gopaal
A CLUTCH OF media groups in Nepal have mounted a vicious campaign against premium Indian companies based in that country — allegedly because they are not getting advertisements. And though the Nepalese publishers say this is due to diplomatic pressure, New Delhi has continued to deny the charge.
According to the market buzz, it is the Rs 15-crore Kantipur Media Group that is funneling the anti-India sentiment. For some days now, a section of the Nepalese media has been urging locals to boycott Indian products that control nearly 65 percent of Nepal’s consumer goods market. In a special show last week, Kantipur Aaj — the group’s TV channel — spewed venom on Dabur Nepal, a subsidiary of the Indian ayurveda goods firm. It alleged that Dabur’s Real brand fruit juices were of abysmal quality.
A Dabur official, who asked not to be named, however, said the ads were withdrawn only because the tariffs had been raised. “We are worried because it has become a political issue now,” he added. Other companies that have withdrawn advertisements from Kantipur Daily are multinationals like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and McDonald’s, whose Nepal operations are handled by their Indian arms.
“There have been concerns regarding this (Indian joint ventures being ‘targeted’ by the Kantipur Group) and we have raised the issue with our Nepalese counterparts,” said a top official in the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi, requesting anonymity
Kantipur Daily has taken the line that, had the Indian products actually been good, there would have been no reason for their manufacturers to withdraw the advertisements. But clearly there is a lot more to the campaign than mere ethical objections to Indian products. The paper’s editor, Sudheer Sharma, for instance, went on to allege: “The Indian embassy had, in the past, tried to stifle the publication, and our newsprint was stopped at the Kolkata port on its way to Kathmandu some months ago.” According to him, New Delhi was doing all this simply because of the paper’s political leanings.
Trouble started last month after Sagarmatha Television, an independent channel, alleged that Dabur’s Real juices had inedible components. This was followed by a series of five frontpage articles in the Leftleaning Naya Patrika, alleging that Dabur’s honey products were substandard and contained harmful chemicals. The tabloid also accused Dabur dealers of intimidating buyers who complained against the group. Another publication, Gorkhapatra, considered to be the government’s mouthpiece, carried similar reports.
However, it was only after Kantipur Daily picked up the story that the Indian embassy in Nepal jumped into the arena in defence of the Indian companies. “They maintain the highest standards of quality, which is proved by the fact that their exports are accepted across the globe. The baseless adverse publicity against the products of such joint ventures will not only hit the Nepalese economy and exports, but will also deter new foreign direct investments into Nepal,” the embassy said in a statement. And rubbishing the charges made by Kantipur Daily, Apoorva Srivastav, spokesperson for the Indian embassy in Nepal, said: “It is not tenable that we can interfere in the working of the media groups in Nepal. Instead, such groups write adversely about the Indian consulate and distort facts.”
But considering that sales so far have not been seriously affected, one can draw only two conclusions: either the products are popular; or the messenger has failed to deliver.
With inputs from Avinash Paliwal
Illustration: Samia Singh