Saturday, November 27, 2021

This Adani-Ambani rant is sickening: AndolanJeevis are pushing India into Dark Ages

It disturbs me as being a corporate, and a successful one at that, is bandied about as some sin in India. And I would’ve thought ours as a liberalised economy was ushered in a generation back.

Sickeningly, it now gets a political colouring and media is culprit to the extent, it does little to use its pen to prevent this nonsense. I haven’t heard from the truth-diggers that the Adani End (in the recent Ahmedabad Test) has been in vogue since 2000. I haven’t witnessed any outrage on the mass destruction of Jio towers in Punjab which would hurt the options for citizens, growth if the State, not to say crores down the drain for the corporate and a debilitating impact on other investors.

If it could happen to Ambanis who are we the lesser souls? And how do you think a foreign investor, with an eye on his last dime, would react?

The present brouhaha when social media was giving call to burn Adani, Ambani offices,  reminded me of the 2008 exit of Tata Motors from Singur in Bengal, leaving behind a heap of dashed hopes. For decades, the Marxists saw big corporations as evil in Bengal. And when they finally wanted to get one for a car plant, the opposition queered the pitch. The situation is very much the same.

Blind faith and blind protests have always worked in India, where the ubiquitous image of the clenched fist of a farmer or a villager in front of a giant plant symbolising the greed of the rich and famous, has always worked well. The words of hatred have spread like the jungle drums of Phantom, of the Ghost Who Walks, and slowly, yet steadily, Indians – like Americans – have started hating the Big Business. I have a feeling Indians do not think CEOs are talented executives, modern philosophers. They think Big Business is loathsome and responsible for just about everything bad and all CEOs are corrupt because they have fat salaries, live in condominiums and rarely think of social issues.

The Disapprove of Capitalism debate has no meaning, India has no space for such an argument. Yet, many tend to forget big corporations make stuff people consume and big corporations give a great many people jobs. But criticism and ridicule does not stop. Opposition political parties in India unceasingly attack corporations, the claims of the politicians mostly undeserved or overstated. Politicians in India rarely say well-run businesses encourage their employees to engender trust, the politicians only talk of scandals at some of these corporations. It, in turn, helps them to tar everyone with the same brush. No wonder then that their fear of corporate monopoly is grossly overstated. Politicians in India who back protestors in almost anything and everything must know Big Business lifts incomes of the poor and makes the society better, if not fairer.

The current climate in India is vicious, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the large enterprises to operate in the present climate. While the government is boasting of improving Ease of Doing Business in India, distractors have started shooting in the foot of our economy.

The recent attacks on Jio towers and seemingly adverse publicity during the cricket match highlighted how political minds are hampering the businesses and brands. Worse, international influencers have also joined this Big Business bashing race in India. They forget that Reliance is an outcome of one entrepreneur’s giant vision to achieve global scales amidst License Raj, Adani is flourishing in the age of auctions instead of allocations on account of its competitiveness.

This is not working for India, or its economy. This has created fears among foreign investors who now prefer to invest in Indian stock markets instead of physical asset creation. The international cash is now flooding the Indian stock market since it offers easy exit to the investors. However, it does not propel any significant economic activity and employment, except for benefitting a handful of traders in the stock market. 

Earlier, it was a strong environment lobby that prevented Indian economy from taking off. Now, much stronger lobbies are spreading selective narratives against the industrial houses to suit their political agenda. A democratic nation ought to have diverse views and even protests in some cases. However, it is not advisable if political movements end up targeting risk taking entrepreneurs to damage the prospects of development.

Consider the case of PSUs and the brouhaha over their disinvestment sales. PSUs were promoted at a time when the Indians didn’t have adequate resources to cater to its vast and deprived population, especially during uncertain times of post-independence. Government enterprises did huge groundwork for the nation but the bureaucratic approach did not take them far. Despite having a good head-start, several PSUs failed to remain profitable, squandered the public money and of course offered substandard products and services. We have lost count of losses incurred by the state and central PSUs. And those who could report profits have done so only because they are monopolies.

Read through the list and you will realise what is right and what is wrong in India: Oil refineries and marketing companies, SAIL, Coal India, NTPC, Power Grid Corporation are some of the largest corporations in their respective fields, enjoying over 75 percent of market share and protection from the government. They were lucky to have amassed large tracts of land when the awareness for environment and human rights were negligible. And the biggest blessing was absence of smartphones to capture tree felling for the critical infrastructure projects and protests by project-affected people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is probably a little late to realise the emergence of AndolanJeevis. Investors are victims of professional activists in the natural resource rich states such as Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh etc. AndolanJeevis are making it appear as if India lives in dark ages without watchdogs and authorities in order to monitor mining and infrastructure projects. Thousands of crores of investment is stuck at different stages of projects on this count.

(This is a revised piece the writer first penned for Times of India).

Shantanu Guha Ray is a Wharton-trained journalist and award-winning author. He lives in Delhi with his wife and two pets.  He won the 2018 Crossword award for his book, Target, which probed the NSEL payment crisis.



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