Mumbai/New Delhi — Indian shopkeepers and traders affiliated to a local lobby group held small sit-in protests across the country on Monday against Walmart’s proposed $16bn acquisition of e-commerce company Flipkart.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) had hoped to gather a million protesters at various cities to voice opposition to the deal, but the numbers were far fewer.

"This is the first phase of our protest. And if the government doesn’t listen, we will decide our future course of action at our national convention in Delhi later this month," Praveen Khandelwal, CAIT secretary-general, told Reuters.

The group says the US retail giant’s buyout of Bengaluru-based Flipkart will create a monopoly in the retail market and drive small, independent stores out of business. India allows 100% foreign direct investment in e-commerce firms that operate on an online marketplace-based model.

Small businesses

The sit-in in Delhi, where CAIT is based, attracted just about 50 traders and shopkeepers by noon, according to a Reuters witness. Attendance in other cities was also sparse.

Satinder Wadhwa, a watch seller who attended the Delhi demonstration, said a cash-rich Flipkart will be a major threat to small businesses like his own, which were already suffering due to a ban on high-value currency notes in December 2016 as well as a nationwide sales tax that was introduced a year ago.

In Guwahati, one of the main cities in Assam state, about 300 traders gathered to protest against the Walmart and Flipkart deal, said CAIT vice-president Rupam Goswami.

They also demanded simplification of the nationwide sales tax, he added.

Small sit-in protests were held in different districts of the eastern West Bengal state.

Bentonville, Arkansas-headquartered Walmart announced in May it was acquiring about 77% of Flipkart, a deal that now awaits the approval of India’s antitrust regulator.

Multiple sources and lawyers close to the deal have previously told Reuters that while the Competition Commission of India will consider all arguments, CAIT did not pose a challenge to the acquisition.

Walmart, which runs 21 cash-and-carry stores in India, said it had been supporting local manufacturing in India by sourcing from small and medium suppliers, farmers and businesses run by women.