Chief minister Nitish Kumar may oppose the Union government's decision to introduce foreign direct investment in re- tail but his electorate in the state capital are in its favour.
Residents, on one hand, feel that American Walmart, French Carrefour or British Tesco outlets coming to the city would provide them with more options. Owners of Indian retail stores, large or small, are also unperturbed by the prospect of increased competition and feel confident that the big international stores would not force them to shut shop.
"A large retail shop is like a paradise for a home-maker," said Dharmsheela Dubey, a resident of Patel Nagar. "I visit the Big Bazaar store at Patliputra once a month. I get everything I want under one roof. I can buy grocery, stationery, utensils, spices as well as garments and furniture at the same place. I don't have to run from one place to another."
The homemaker added: "Also, at large stores, there are many brands we can choose from that are not available in local kirana (grocery) stores. If large stores open in Patna, it would definitely benefit us."
She also had a tongue-in-cheek advice for Nitish. "The chief minister should not forget that a large number of women voted for him last time. If he does not think about their convenience, they might not vote for him again."
Dental surgeon Dr Madhurani said: "Jis cheez ki aapko aadat ho jaye, woh aap chhod nahi sakte (You cannot give up what you are habituated to). I visit large outlets like V2, Vishal Mega Mart and Big Bazaar very often. But I still go to the kirana store near my home.
"For instance, if there is no tea at home, I call up the kirana storeowner and ask him to deliver it. While discounts at big stores help me keep to my monthly budget, the local retail store is a lifeline in emergencies."
The debate over foreign direct investment in retail trade has polarised opinion not only among shoppers and shopkeepers in Patna but sparked a storm in national politics.
On September 14, the Centre decided to allow 51 per cent foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail to attract international business and boost the Indian economy. Cities that have a population of over 10 lakh can have international stores.
The state capital ' with a population of approximately 1.8 million ' qualifies to have international retail stores. It already has large Indian retail stores like Big Bazaar, V2 and Vishal Mega Mart.
But Nitish Kumar, along with his NDA ally BJP and counterparts in Bengal, Gujarat and a number of other states, is averse to the idea.
The state government, which will take the final call on allowing Walmart or Carrefour opening shop in Bihar, is likely to play spoilsport. In the opinion of the chief minister, large, international retail stores would draw away the customers from smaller outlets and this would lead to unemployment.
"People, who are opposing the decision of the central government, are thinking about only 5 per cent kirana owners and not of the 95 per cent customers," said Sujeet Rout, assistant store manager, V2.
He added: "Customers would benefit the most as they would have more options. The expansion of the market would, on the other hand, not hamper small businessmen at all."
Owners of small shops also agree that large stores would not affect their profits.
Mintu Babu, the owner of a kirana store near Big Bazaar, said: "My income has not been affected because a larger shop has opened nearby. My customers and their customers are different."
He added: "Also, I have a very good relation with people who come to my shop regularly. They never think of going anywhere else."