‘Suit Boot Ki Sarkar’: Farmers’ boycott call is the first serious challenge to Ambani and Adani
The boycott call by agitating farmers may fizzle out but puts the spotlight again on crony capitalism
Concentration of political as well as economic power in India has drawn international attention. India is seen following the Russian example of crony capitalists cornering national wealth and controlling political power, leading to an oligarchy. The Financial Times last month called Gautam Adani as ‘Modi’s Rockefeller’ and referred to his meteoric rise during the Modi regime. And in an open letter to Mukesh Ambani that went viral, senior journalist Binu S Thomas pointed out the monopolistic tendencies of Reliance Industry and explained why he would be logging out of Reliance products and services. The letter was published on moneylife. In.
Thomas wrote that while Reliance undoubtedly employed a large number of people, generated wealth and revenue for the government, this was not enough. “Large businesses, such as Reliance, have a special duty to ensure their market practices are fair and promote longterm consumer and, more importantly, national well-being,” he concluded and pointed to the company’s less than ethical practices.
“I will no longer be buying an electrical appliance from Reliance Digital, or grocery items from Reliance Retail or Jiomart or fuelling up at a Reliance Petroleum outlet. I will try my damn best to avoid tuning into any of 71 television channels Reliance controls through Network 18 and accounting, as you claimed in your 2019 Reliance AGM statement, for 800 million viewers or some 95% of the television viewing audience in the country. My Jio Wi-Fi connection, which expires next month, will not be renewed. You see I am simply logging out of all Reliance businesses…”
Referring to the farm Acts, Thomas said, “… Not a bad idea, theoretically speaking, for farmers except that, in practice mega players like Reliance will effectively set the price they get and, over time, narrow their options for getting better prices elsewhere…Two other bills, one dealing with promotion of contract farming and another removing stocking limits on many essential items of daily use like cereals, pulses, oils and onions, will also benefit large players like Reliance more than anyone else.”
“But I do hope and pray that you will, as a smart business tycoon, realise—perhaps in your quietest moments—that the long-term interests of your businesses are tied not just to how big and powerful they become but the price the people of this still largely poor and developing country have to pay for your vaulting business ambitions,” he wrote in conclusion.
The Financial Times in its report also pointed out the favourable policy changes that helped the Adani Group to grow phenomenally in a short time. “When the Indian government approved the privatisation of six airports in 2018, it relaxed the rules to widen the pool of competition, allowing companies without any experience in the sector to bid. There was one clear winner from the rule change: Gautam Adani, the billionaire industrialist with no history of running airports, scooped up all six,” the report said.
While the deal triggered outrage of crony capitalism and Kerala’s finance minister objected to the 50-year lease of Trivandrum International Airport to the Adani Group, the civil aviation minister brushed it aside and said that the bidding was transparent. “Overnight Mr Adani became one of the country’s biggest private airport operators,” the FT report pointed out.
“Gautam Adani is very powerful, very politically well-connected and very astute at using that power,” the FT quoted Tim Buckley, an energy analyst based in Australia as saying. “He is Modi’s Rockefeller.”
The Adani Group is also India’s largest private ports operator and thermal coal power producer. The diversified group which commands a growing share of India’s power transmission and gas distribution markets, is rapidly increasing its footprints and is believed to have registered a large number of companies in 2019 for its foray into agriculture produce. Indeed, Gautam Adani had started by trading in commodities.
He certainly appears, in hindsight, to have had inside and advance knowledge of the farm ordinances and laws pushed through by the Government. The boycott call by farmers of Reliance and Adani products and services is the first serious threat the two richest Indians appear to be facing.