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Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

Lulu says ‘80% staff Hindu’; minister calls ‘incident’ a campaign to smear

The statement issued in Hindi by Jaykumar Gangadhar, Regional Director, Lulu India Shopping Mall Pvt Ltd, also said that “Lulu Mall is completely a business establishment, which conducts business without caste and class”.

A signboard says no prayers allowed in Lulu Mall. (PTI)

IN AN unusual step, the management of Lulu Mall in Lucknow, which is part of the UAE-based Lulu Group with operations in 20 countries and an annual turnover of $8 billion, has issued a statement saying that “over 80 per cent” of its staff are Hindu. This is in response to a social media campaign against the mall after a video of a group of unidentified persons offering namaz in the mall premises did the rounds.

The UP Police haven’t traced those seen offering namaz in the video that surfaced six days ago.

In response to allegations that the mall was favouring a community, the management issued a statement: “It is very unfortunate that some people for their own selfish interests are trying to target our institution. Among our employees are local residents, and people from UP and across the country. Of these, over 80 per cent are Hindu, the rest are Muslims, Christians and others. Nobody in our organisation is allowed to conduct any religious activity. The mall administration has lodged an FIR against those who tried to offer prayers and namaz in a public place.”

The statement issued in Hindi by Jaykumar Gangadhar, Regional Director, Lulu India Shopping Mall Pvt Ltd, also said that “Lulu Mall is completely a business establishment, which conducts business without caste and class”.

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“The consumer is most important to us. Our establishment does business within the limits prescribed by government rules. Our employees are here not in the name of caste and religion but on the basis of work efficiency and merit,” it said, ending with an appeal to “all not to target our esteemed establishment for vested interest” and “allow us to conduct business keeping in mind the benefit of our customer”.

The statement was issued after the video clip was followed by a social media campaign alleging that the mall had employed mostly members of the Muslim community from outside the state.

Speaking to The Indian Express, UP Minister for Infrastructure and Industrial Development, Nanda Gopal Gupta “Nandi” said the incident at Lulu mall was the work of “anti-social elements” who are “troubled by the constant success of the government in attracting investment towards the state”.

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He said he would like to assure investors that their “interests” would be protected and preserved in the state and such elements would be exposed.

“At a time when we are planning the Global Investor Summit in January next year and have had successful investments in the past five years, there are attempts by anti-social elements to disturb law and order. Soon, those who have conspired this would also be exposed,” Nandi said.

“I assure investors that preserving and securing their interests and investment is the first priority of the government. We had seen similar things happen during the ground-breaking ceremony also as before that an incident had happened to disturb law and order. There are attempts to malign the image whenever we take a step ahead but we assure investors that strict action would be taken and their interest would be safeguarded here,” he said.

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Nandi alleged that such incidents are the result of “uneasiness among notorious elements who used to rule the government during the SP regime in the state and used to dictate terms to the police and administrative officers. But that has been stopped by the present government and it is they who are most troubled.”

Alok Shukla, Director, CII, Uttar Pradesh, said: “This is for the first time that such an incident has happened, be it in the retail or the manufacturing sector. For industry, everybody is welcome based on their work profile and capability. We hope that this is temporary and not many have taken heed of these discussions, considering the response that the mall is getting. Even the Lullu Mall administration is watchful.”

Akash Goenka, Director of Shubham Goldee Masala Ltd and Vice Chairman of CII, Uttar Pradesh, said: “The government is undertaking initiatives because of which international brands are coming to UP and consumer based companies like us are getting showcased. However, incidents like these are shocking. Incidents based on religious things are not welcome in any manner. When industralisation happens, it does not see religion, it is for everybody.”

He said: “It (the mall), is something new. See the kind of demographic of the people coming to visit. It has become a tourist destination, people from neighbouring districts like Barabanki, Unnao, Rae Bareli are coming to visit it as a tourist destination. We just hope that such things do not happen and we get more and more such brands in the future.”

Following Lulu’s statement, former Indian Ambassador to the UAE Navdeep Suri took to Twitter, saying it was “tragic” that the group had to disclose the religion of its staff.

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“The Lulu Group founded by M A Yusuff Ali in UAE have invested well over Rs 10,000 cr in India. They source over Rs 3000 crore of fresh produce from India for their hyper markets, create 1000s of jobs. And they have to disclose the religious identity of their staff? Tragic!” he tweeted.

Speaking to the Indian Express later, Suri said: “I hope law agencies get to the bottom of this. Clearly, some miscreants made a deliberate attempt to create mischief, and I see this as a deliberate act. The unfortunate reaction from groups following this escalates the situation and is a dampener.”

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Suri, who is currently a fellow at ORF, said the “Government’s effort will be to restore the confidence of the investors”.

“The Lulu group has invested more than Rs 2,000 crore in such a project… These incidents impact the perception of India at a popular level though our ties with Arab countries are very strong and they tend to be resilient and governed by national interests. But India’s image in the eyes of the common man there takes a hit,” he said.

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The Lulu Mall in Lucknow was inaugurated by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on July 10, and opened to the public a day later.

On July 14, a case was lodged at the Sushant Golf City police station in Lucknow on a complaint by the mall’s Public Relations Manager Sibtain Hussain on the namaz video after the clip went viral on social media.

The case has was lodged under IPC sections 153-A (1) (promoting enmity between groups), 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 341 (wrongful restraint), and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief).

Two days later, police arrested four persons for allegedly attempting to enter the mall to recite the Hanuman Chalisa in response to the video. They were booked on charges of breaching peace. The police have also booked a total of 27 people on similar charges for allegedly staging protests over the video.

The Lucknow mall is part of the Rs 13,000-crore India expansion plans announced by the Lulu Group in 2018 under Lulu India Shopping Mall Pvt Ltd — and is the fifth to be built by the group after malls in Kochi, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur.

(With ENS & ENS Economic Bureau/Delhi)

First published on: 19-07-2022 at 04:45:09 am
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