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Power of the Indian buyer The Statesman 15 Feb 2022
India today is a global power, an economic powerhouse and a market which no global manufacturer wishes to let go. On Pakistan’s Kashmir solidarity day, a number of global companies’ Pakistani partners commented on Kashmir on social media networks. Most prominent was car maker Hyundai, which has a large Indian presence. Hyundai’s Pakistan partner, Nishat group, supported Kashmir solidarity day on multiple social media networks. On twitter, Nishat Hyundai stated that it supported Kashmir’s ‘struggle for freedom.’ There was an immediate backlash.
Hyundai India initially attempted to block those who tweeted their objections to comments made by its partner in Pakistan, but the cry grew shriller by the hour. It could no longer be ignored. Thousands of car bookings were cancelled across the country. Customers in India have multiple choices, Hyundai being just one and they exploited it. A Hyundai user in Bengaluru, while taking his car for servicing, pasted on his rear shield, ‘I am ashamed to drive this car which is from an anti-national company.’ The company realised that its business would be hit if it did not respond.
The impact even hit bilateral relations compelling the South Korean government to wade in to save the company, already facing a downslide in global stock markets due to the pandemic. While India summoned the South Korean Ambassador, its foreign minister spoke to his Indian counterpart, S Jaishankar. The company issued two apologies, the first being unacceptable. In its second apology the company expressed regret ‘for any offence caused to the people of India by this unofficial social media activity.’ Jaishankar tweeted, ‘Received a call from ROK (Republic of Korea) FM Chung Eui-yong today. Discussed bilateral and multilateral issues as also the Hyundai matter.’
A statement issued by the Indian government mentioned that the South Korean foreign minister ‘conveyed that they regretted the offence caused to the people and Government of India by the social media post.’ The offending post was removed from social media sites. However, the damage was done. Hyundai’s future actions will be closely watched.
Kia, another South Korean concern, with a far lesser market share, whose Pakistan partner issued a similar tweet also faced a backlash. It too apologized immediately. In a statement the Kia company mentioned ‘we deeply regret the offence caused by this unofficial social media activity.’ There were other global concerns whose Pakistan partners had posted messages supporting Kashmir solidarity day. All jumped to apologize and redeem their Indian market shares.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper stated in an article, ‘Global automaker Toyota Motor and fast-food chain Domino’s Pizza are amongst half a dozen companies that have apologised to India for social media posts from their Pakistani partners expressing support for Kashmir, as more companies got caught up in the diplomatic fracas.’ The companies which apologized included KFC, Pizza Hut, Suzuki, Honda and Isuzu motors. These companies would never have bothered had India been a non-entity market like Pakistan.
February 5th Kashmir solidarity day has no historical relevance and was announced by Nawaz Sharif in 1991 based on demands of his political ally Jamaat-e-Islami, with whose support he was elected to power. While Pakistan marks the day seeking to display solidarity with Kashmir demanding implementation of the UNSC resolution, its residents in POK term the day as ‘fraud day.’ This year, it was Pakistan’s ISI which compelled global concerns Pakistan partners to issue statements.
Over the years Kashmir solidarity day had lost relevance and become just another event amongst the dozens Pakistan marks to display fake concern for Kashmiris, while tasking its terrorist groups to kill innocents. For Pakistan, statements made by global concerns was intended to project international support for its cause. The fact that parent companies were unaware of these comments was ignored.
The Dawn of Pakistan in a report of 08 Feb stated, ‘The company (Hyundai) said its independently-owned distributor in Pakistan made ‘unauthorised’ Kashmir related social media posts from its accounts, and ‘misused the Hyundai brand identity.’ It proves that Pakistani entities issued statements without keeping the parent company in picture, leading to them being embarrassed and compelling them to offer an apology to preserve their Indian market. Hyundai does not even have a manufacturing plant in Pakistan.
The retraction by internationally branded concerns displays the power of the Indian consumer, which if it boycotts a company could impact its market share. It is also India’s economic might, growing market and a strong central government which pushed these companies, which otherwise would have maintained silence, to apologize and take note of the manner their Pakistan partners behaved. They are now being compelled to put in place systems to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
Tesla had attempted to import cars manufactured in China, aware that despite its cost of about 60 Lakhs, the Indian market is lucrative. But that was not to be. The Indian government turned down the request by Tesla’s owner Elon Musk’s demand for tax breaks on his electric vehicles. He had requested tax cuts of upto 100%. Minister of heavy industries, Krishan Pal Gujjar stated in parliament that ‘there cannot be a situation where the market is India, but jobs are created in China.’ The only option left for Tesla, if it still seeks the Indian market is to commence manufacturing its cars in India. It is only a matter of time before Tesla manufacturing commences in India.
Pakistan’s ISI which would have conceived the idea of roping in global concerns intending to project international support may never be able to repeat such a step. However, in the field of information warfare it must be admitted that Pakistan was a stage ahead forcing India to react. What it would never have expected was the flow of public apologies by every company, whose Pakistan partners were forced to comment. At the end of the day, while Pakistan may have brought Kashmir into temporary limelight, it lost face when all concerns tendered unconditional apologies while accusing their Pak partners of exploiting their name without permission. The message on India’s red lines has been sent across the globe.