By K Raveendran
Modi bashing is a favourite pastime for Rahul Gandhi. He has been doing that as a daily routine to the point of sounding monotonous. But he has said a few home truths about the Modi government, which unfortunately do not receive the attention that these deserve, mostly due to the repetitiveness.
One such claim is that the Modi government is not run by the people for the people, but for the Ambanis and the Adanis. The intended exaggeration apart, all indications point to the fact that the Ambanis and the Adanis have never had it so good, whether it is due to benefaction from the Modi government or the enterprise of the two groups.
In fact, there is a great danger of oligarchies taking hold in India as groups extend their stranglehold of the economy. There is not an area of economic activity that is excluded from the growing empires of these powerful houses.
In the early days of Independence, it was the Tatas and Birlas who held such sway, with both the groups being present in possibly every area of economic activity. ‘We also make steel’, the tongue-in-cheek advertising catchline, perhaps gives an idea about the sweep of the Tatas. But these groups have now been joined by more aggressive and perhaps more ruthless entities such as the Ambanis and Adanis.
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance, for instance, has been extending its hold to ever new spheres, the latest being healthcare and agriculture. How the relatively new entrant Jio changed the telecommunication scene is all too familiar and today, the rest of the field as well as the consumers are at the mercy of the company as it has sent the rest of the players into a tailspin.
Reliance by its own volition believes that it has a pivotal role to play in shaping the destiny of the nation. The group claims that through its various consumer-facing businesses, it provides a ‘robust platform to every Indian to realize his/ her potential through its state-of-the-art products and services’. The group claims a customer base of over 250 million across telecommunications, power, financial services, infrastructure, media and entertainment, and healthcare sectors.
And it is ever on the lookout for new areas. In the last two years, Mukesh Ambani has picked up stakes in over 20 start-ups and about half-a-dozen small companies including artificial intelligence platform Haptik, which is one of the world’s largest conversational AI platforms.
More or less similar is the case of the Adani group. It does not matter whether the group has expertise or prior experience in landing plum deals to run the sinews of the economy. Recently, the group won the rights to manage and run major airports in the country, although the company has no exposure to the management of airports. In many of these deals, the company acts as a middleman, winning the deals, but entrusting the responsibility to subcontractors, who have experience in the respective areas. The big question then is why the deal should go to the group. There Rahul Gandhi does seem to have a point.
We have behind us the experience of Korea’s chaebols, which are similar to the Indian groups, becoming the pillars of ‘miracle economies’, such as Samsung, Hyundai, LG, Lotte etc. These have been highly successful businesses, but their oversized influence over the government and influence-peddling to achieve goals that may not be entirely straightforward have brought discredit to the system.
In India, we don’t have any system that can keep these chaebol-like entities under check, which makes them a law unto themselves. In this respect, they are even better placed than the global tech giants, including Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, which are now facing heat over anti-competitive and monopolistic tactics.
The anti-trust panel of the US Congressional investigators have in a just-released report found that the four tech giants relied on dubious, harmful means to solidify their dominance in Web search, smartphones, social networking and shopping.
Google and Facebook, for instance, have been accused of gobbling up competition. The panel found that Google improperly scraped rivals’ websites and forced its technology on others to reach its pole position in search and advertising.
It is heartening that the ruthless tech giants will have to atone for their misdeeds. But a similar restraint on the equally powerful and perhaps more ruthless Indian chaebols does not seem to be even a distant possibility. (IPA Service)