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OPINION | Can India Grow if Iconic Enterprises are Vilified and Business Assets Destroyed in Name of Protests?

By: Pathikrit Payne

Last Updated: December 30, 2020, 17:27 IST

Farmers gather at Tikri border during their protest against the Centre's farm reform laws, in New Delhi on December 19, 2020. (PTI Photo)

Farmers gather at Tikri border during their protest against the Centre's farm reform laws, in New Delhi on December 19, 2020. (PTI Photo)

The question that needs to be asked is who benefits if the reputation of some of India’s largest business houses are deliberately damaged through a vicious disinformation campaign.

Who benefits the most if telecom towers in thousands get destroyed in the name of farm agitation? Who benefits the most if mindless violence within the factory premises of an iPhone contract manufacturer in India ends up in vandalism of the premises and completely jeopardises tireless efforts of the government to invite global manufacturers to shift their production bases from China to India?

Who benefits if the reputation of some of India’s largest business houses are deliberately damaged through a vicious disinformation campaign that may put brakes on India’s efforts to leapfrog the economy towards the $10 trillion mark by 2030-32? Who is out there to gain the maximum if global investors lose their confidence in India as an investment destination because of agitation, unrest and destruction of critical business assets? The country whose name rings bells the most is China and no one else.

Consider this: In October 2020, Reliance announced its collaboration with chipmaker Qualcomm and earlier this month Mukesh Ambani announced at the Indian Mobile Congress that Reliance JIO would roll out 5G network in India in the second half of 2021. It was for the first time since India’s mobile telephony journey that an India company was announcing the herald of a new era where India would no more be depending on Chinese telecom infrastructure providers for network development. It was indeed a matter of pride for India.

Reliance targeted for 5G aspirations?

Even during the height of the Covid pandemic, in the midst of the global economic crisis, Reliance JIO broke records by selling 25 per cent stake for around Rs 1.18 lakh crore thereby creating an enterprise valuation of around Rs 5.16 lakh crore. It was one of the biggest FDI in an Indian company in recent times.

All this, incidentally, happened at time when China is now gradually paying the price for many of its misdeeds and its technology companies like Huawei were getting blacklisted or cold shouldered across many major economies of the world.

Prior to blockbuster stake sale, Reliance JIO revolutionized Indian telecom by drastically bringing down telecom rates and data charges, thereby making broadband affordable for most Indians even with modest income. And yet, surprisingly perhaps, today that very affordable broadband is being used to vilify some of the biggest corporate entities in social media through a mindless campaign.

More shocking is when that very critical telecom infrastructure which facilitates affordable telecommunication is being deliberately destroyed in the name of protest, and out there the response to that remain muted from all quarters. Does one realize how much such incidents have devastating impact on India’s journey towards economic recovery and march towards the $10 trillion economy? Are organizations like Reliance being targeted for their 5G aspirations?

Random or Orchestrated Violence?

One is, therefore, compelled to ponder on the following question: is the shocking destruction of 1500 mobile towers or ransacking of the iPhone manufacturing facility just spontaneous random acts by a group of people, or is it that each of these two incidents, and many more in the last one year, along with a sustained campaign to vilify some of the biggest names of Indian industry, have been craftily designed with some ulterior motives of putting brakes on India’s bold attempts to gradually decouple the Indian economy from China, and strive towards a double digit figure in the trillion dollar club? Is there a more sinister design behind all of it that it meets the eyes?

Two things are for sure: first, India’s industry majors and some of the biggest names in the service sector, would be playing a critical role if India has to reach the $10 trillion club. It would be impossible for PM Modi-led NDA government to reach anywhere near that level if India fails to attract investments and if India cannot assure security of investments. Therefore, detractors of India know that they can achieve more by merely by stoking internal turmoil, mob violence and civil unrest than perhaps by any act of terror. Any reduction of investor confidence would hurt India and its people badly.

Second, after the new farm laws have been enacted, it is for sure that Indian agriculture is expected to gradually leapfrog and contribute significantly to Indian economy. For long Indian agriculture was run in a feudalistic manner in which the commission agents and middlemen had a near monopoly, thanks to restrictive policies that prevented trading of agro-commodities beyond one’s districts and did not give farmers the permission to directly deal with retail chains, exporters and food processing industry.

Further, ‘anachronistic acts’ such as Essential Commodities Act put severe restrictions on the amount of farm produce that can be stored in cold storage facilities and this for decades severely restricted India’s food processing industry from thriving even as around 50 per cent of Indian fruits and vegetables continued to get wasted even before reaching the market while the hapless Indian farmer remained impoverished, indebted and at the mercy of the commission agents and middlemen.

The new laws give the Indian farmer the much needed bargaining power and option to bypass the middlemen and commission agents, to deal directly with exporters and food processing companies or retail chains. It is expected to unleash a new wave of investments in food processing industry, cold storage and application of technology in farming.

In times to come, rural India would become a major hub for agro-processing industry and would not only be able to sustain themselves but would also create jobs in large numbers. Therefore, those who oppose India’s long term prosperity would invariably target both business assets and economic reforms.

farm laws narrative and vested interests

The biggest losers after implementation of new farm reforms are the middlemen and commission agents who minted money for decades at the cost the farmers, who barely could make both ends meet. But how can the self-serving middlemen and commission agents protest against these laws by stating that these laws would hurt their money minting profession since farmers would no more be at their mercy?

And thus, came the new narrative to give a new spin to the whole issue and vilify the corporates and accuse them of land grabbing. The objective of the protest masterminds is to prevent any farm reform so that agriculture could continue to remain under their stranglehold and blaming corporate entities was the easiest way to gain easy support from the masses and create confusion in the minds of farmers.

Many of India’s opposition parties, including the Congress Party, know well how the farm reforms would incredibly benefit the farmers and usher prosperity in rural India. Top leaders of Congress in the past have been on record speaking in favor of agriculture market reforms to bypass the middlemen and giving direct market access to farmers.

During UPA era, efforts were made in the same direction. Yet for some curious reasons, Congress and other major opposition political parties continue to support the agitations. Also, more vocal opposition to destruction of critical telecom assets was expected from the top leadership of Congress.

The next logical question in that case would invariably be as to why the likes of Congress is opposing the reforms? Is it political opportunism or the fear that if farm reforms end up in bringing prosperity in rural India, and surely they would, then their political space in rural India would forever be lost to BJP? With Congress and other major political parties having already lost significant political space to PM Modi-led BJP, are they looking at the farm protests as the last opportunity to corner the BJP?

While political bickering has its own place, the unfortunate thing is the humongous harm these protests and violent agitations are doing to India economy that has barely started to recover after a disastrous year 2020 marred by pandemic.

Left and Congress Role

While most Left parties and Leftist organizations have been at the forefront of supporting the agitations, nothing much can be expected from the Leftist political parties who in any case have lost most of the political space in Indian electoral politics. Having literally destroyed work culture in states like West Bengal, forcing closure of around 58,000 factories during their 34 years rule there, it is not unexpected that Leftist parties would continue with their mindless opposition to economic reforms.

Opposition of Congress Party to anything that Modi Government does is no more news. In spite of its massive electoral setback in 2019 general election, it was surprising how it opposed the manner of abrogation of Article 370. Nevertheless, even that is acceptable in electoral democracy. Yet what has been more surprising is its vitriolic criticism of Narendra Modi Government on issues such as COVID management, the Doklam issue as well as Indo-China face-off in Ladakh.

But were there similar scathing criticism of China from Congress, be it on Chinese culpability in the spread of Covid, the Chinese intrusion along the LAC in Ladakh or the clash between PLA and Indian Army personnel? If not, why? The attempt of Congress top leadership to politicize the issues, was criticized even by NCP Supremo Sharad Pawar when in an interview, he reminded Rahul Gandhi on what happened in 1962.

Having governed India for decades, even today there are certain level of expectations that people have from Congress. Politics may have its own place and opposition parties may also have legitimate rights to question the government in power, but one expects some of India’s top political parties to draw the line somewhere.

Abuse of iconic entrepreneurs

In an era when the world not just idolises entrepreneurs and change agents, but also has started recognising and honoring some of India’s legendary entrepreneurs and iconic industrialists, who started from extremely humble backgrounds to create billion dollar enterprises that add to the economic might of India, mindless abuse of Indian industrialists and destruction of critical infrastructures deserve condemnation from all political parties cutting across ideological differences.

The success of Indian IT industry that employs tens of millions, both directly and indirectly, owes its existence to iconic India entrepreneurs as well. Similarly, it is time to create a new generation of Indian entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector who can create tomorrow’s billion dollar entities and create jobs here.

If India’s opposition political parties genuinely care for rural India, then they must realise that it is time to invest in Indian agriculture instead of witnessing destruction of critical infrastructures in the name of mindless protest. That would only help India’s biggest adversaries in the extended neighborhood. In the name of opposition to Modi government, are some inadvertently ending up giving the upper hand to China? Point to ponder.

The author is a geopolitical analyst. Views expressed are personal.

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first published:December 30, 2020, 17:27 IST
last updated:December 30, 2020, 17:27 IST