Foreign Minister Threatens Amazon Over Indian Flag Doormats

  • Sushma Swaraj vows to rescind visas for Amazon employees
  • Amazon removes item after Indian mission intervened: official

India’s foreign minister has lashed out at Amazon.com Inc. on Twitter for selling doormats bearing an image of the Indian flag, prompting the online retail giant to remove the offending item amid a storm of controversy.

Sushma Swaraj threatened to withhold visas for Amazon employees, and rescind those already granted, if the company did not remove the Indian flag doormats from its website.

"Amazon must tender unconditional apology. They must withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately," she wrote in a tweet that was retweeted 7,600 times by Thursday morning. 

"If this is not done forthwith, we will not grant Indian Visa to any Amazon official," she wrote in another Tweet. "We will also rescind the Visas issued earlier."

Swaraj, who is well known for responding to Indian citizens on Twitter, sent the Tweet from her official account as India’s External Affairs minister at a time when tensions are already high between Indian e-commerce firms and their foreign rivals. She sent the message after an ordinary Twitter user tagged her in a tweet featuring a screenshot of various doormats featuring India’s flag for sale on Amazon Canada and asked that Amazon Canada be "censured and warned."

‘Inconsequential Matter’

A spokesman for India’s foreign ministry said Amazon had already taken action.

"Our Mission in Ottawa took up the matter with Amazon Canada," Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup said in a text message. "They are no longer selling that item."

A spokeswoman for Amazon’s India unit did not immediately respond to an email request for comment on Thursday.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi handling many foreign visits and policy announcements personally, Swaraj as foreign minister has mostly been known for her Twitter outreach. She regularly generates headlines in India with her response to Indians over passport problems and often tries to help citizens in distress around the world, linking them with India’s embassies and consulates.

On Twitter, many Indians praised her Tweet, while others were unimpressed that an Indian foreign minister would be tackling such a minor issue.

"One wishes that Ms. Swaraj would concentrate on the weighty foreign-policy issues and leave expression of such outrage over a relatively inconsequential matter to ruling party functionaries," Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, said in an email.

E-Commerce Tensions

The minister’s intervention with Amazon comes as Indian e-commerce firms fight a fierce battle against well-funded foreign rivals, such as Amazon and Uber Technologies Inc, and have begun calling for protectionist regulation.

Amazon has bet billions on its India operations as competition among e-commerce rivals such as Flipkart Online Services Pvt Ltd. and Snapdeal heats up. Flipkart’s co-founder and executive chairman Sachin Bansal recently called for a "more India-centric approach" to regulation in an era of increased competition in India. 

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