What’s fuelling Ambani’s skyrocketing fortune?
While millions of Indians are unemployed and sulking due to immense economic crisis and poverty, Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), left behind Warren Buffet, Elon Musk as well as Google founders – Sergey Brin and Larry Page, to become the world’s sixth-richest man according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Ambani’s net worth is now $72.4 billion, which is around twice the amount ($40 billion) Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has allocated for agriculture, and nearly 7.4 times of its healthcare allocation ($9.7 billion) in the Union Budget 2020-21. It’s party time for Mr Ambani, and for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is a principal beneficiary of his largesse. How is Ambani’s wealth increasing when most Indians are falling deeper in the dark gorge of sheer poverty and economic uncertainty?
Well, until the Modi regime exists at the centre and the BJP retains its hegemony over India, nothing can stop Ambani from getting richer. All public resources and taxpayers’ money will be unapologetically put in the service of Ambani and his ilk by the Modi regime. In return, these crony-comprador capitalists help the regime and the BJP to consolidate their rule. Reliance Jio, Ambani’s brainchild project, is one of such ventures that is helping the fascist regime in maintaining its dominant position while allowing big corporates to profiteer by streamlining their marketing and sales activities using stolen data of people.
By tweaking rules and regulations, Ambani launched Reliance Jio in 2016 and disrupted the mobile telecommunication industry. From giants like Airtel and Vodafone to the public sector Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), all companies suffered due to Jio’s disruptive entry into the 4G market. The Modi regime slowly pushed BSNL into a state of perpetual coma, without taking any effective steps to push for its recovery. Private players like Airtel and Vodafone are crippled too.
To aid Reliance Jio, the Modi regime didn’t allow BSNL to compete in the prevalent 4G network space by denying it a spectrum. The death of BSNL, pushing thousands of families into utmost despair, allowed an unstoppable expansion of Reliance Jio, which became an unofficial partner of the BJP and helped the Modi regime in creating a huge data bank with personally-identifiable information about its customers, whose connections have been activated using an Aadhaar-based identity verification system.
Before Ambani launching Reliance Jio, Modi went to the US and met the top Silicon Valley pirates as part of his “Digital India” campaign that aims at connecting a large number of Indians through the internet to ensure they can be monitored by the state using surveillance tools as well as they can form a large data bank for corporates to market their products using Artificial Intelligence. As Ambani said, “data is the new oil”, and as India has a large and promising market with over 330m-strong middle-class, the “Digital India” campaign became hit and even companies like Facebook became interested in it.
The plan of linking Aadhaar with digital accounts and promoting a digital economy to force the middle-class to become an integral part of an ecosystem that will promote corporate dominance over their private lives, helped the Modi regime to woo foreign capital in India’s digital space. To further push the citizens, or most of them, to enter the digital ecosystem, the Modi regime carried out the infamous demonetisation exercise in November-December 2016. This disastrous exercise did cause severe damage to the Indian economy but enabled digital payment systems to increase their foothold as well as expand the Aadhaar-mobile-tax-bank linking exercise.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-2020, Facebook invested $5.7 billion in Ambani’s Jio Platforms to buy 9.99% stakes. This investment came after Modi made India a part of the US President Donald Trump’s Trade War with China. Modi has been marketing India as an alternative to China to the US corporates. Ambani has been a crucial factor in the US-India nexus. He ensured that by exploiting the US-China antagonism his empire expands by copying the Chinese technology and wooing the US. In February 2020, during his India visit, Trump met Ambani, who assured him that Jio’s 5G technology work will be done without Chinese components.
During the lockdown, when the Indian economy exhibited its deep injuries, inflicted by the Modi regime’s policies and capitalism’s global crisis, Ambani got many reasons to smile. While the Reserve Bank of India reduced repo rate and allowed banks to finance corporates in buying back their shares, which gave rise to fictitious capital, Ambani jumped into the fray as well. In this and this article, the growth of fictitious capital is shown. By using a unique rights offer of Rs 1,257 per share, a 14% discount, by offering its shareholders one share per 15 shares they hold, which will be leading to an equity dilution of 7% for the Rs 9.3 trillion-worth company in which Ambani and the promoters hold 50% stakes, RIL is raising Rs 531.25 billion.
Recently, Ambani declared that his RIL is a debt-free organisation. It doesn’t mean that he has repaid the debts taken from banks, as RIL continues to be one of the top corporate borrowers in the country and has stressed the assets of public sector banks. This statement came after the company raised Rs 1.69 trillion in 58 days. The net debt of the company was Rs 161 trillion on March 31st 2020. By raising Rs 1.69 trillion, the RIL now has the net amount that can make it debt-free, but that doesn’t mean it will go debt-free because that’s not its agenda.
Also, during the recent Annual General Meeting of the RIL, Ambani claimed that his company is one of the top taxpayers of the country. But, unsurprisingly, in a report published by The Hindu Business Line, it’s shown that the RIL’s income-tax outgo for the financial year (FY) 2019-20 has fallen by 30 basis points to 1.4% despite “a flat consolidated net profit growth” to Rs 398.80 billion in the last quarter. Similarly, there has been a considerable fall in its indirect tax contributions as well, despite Ambani trying hard to project his company as a socially-responsible organisation.
For Ambani, Jio Platforms is the magic tool to intensify his profiteering. Due to a paradigm shift in technology, from a traditional hardware-based model to a new software-based model, this 5G-based Jio Platforms, which is competing with China’s Huawei and Europe’s Nokia and Ericsson, has become a lucrative bait for global technology giants based in the US. With Trump’s patronage, big corporates like Facebook, Google and Intel are investing in Jio Platforms as it’s showing a wide array of opportunities for them in isolating China’s technological surge and dominance in the market.
From providing cheap Android handsets to the poor as well as to collect and sell people’s private details to big corporates, to the promotion of technologies like Jio Glass, Ambani, armed by the big monopoly-finance capital of the US, is close to colonising India digitally. This technological colonisation, which will aid Modi’s political hegemony, is done with pseudo-nationalist rhetoric by Ambani, as he said: “And data is the new wealth. India’s data must be controlled and owned by Indian people – and not by corporates, especially global corporations. Today, we have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonisation.” This propaganda is amplified by the mainstream press to make it epidemically viral throughout the country, thanks to Ambani’s strong control over India’s media through multi-layered ownership.
Apart from Facebook, Google has agreed to invest Rs 337.37 billion ($4.49 billion) for a 7.7% stake in Jio Platforms. Both Facebook and Google have been convicted of data theft and unethical selling of private information. The Indian government’s obnoxious agenda of partnering with Facebook and Google to carry out surveillance on all citizens using the internet and to sell private data to big corporate houses to help them running targeted marketing campaigns to increase their sales tally will jeopardise Indian people’s freedom. This will be amounting to mortgaging the Indian people’s privacy––guaranteed as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court––to the US corporations and their servile Indian lackeys.
Why would someone trust Jio Platforms, backed by the crooked Facebook and Google, vis-à-vis Huawei? It’s because both Facebook and Google have extreme and unlimited power to decide what content people should see, how much they should see and when they would see. Jio Platforms has the backing of the world’s sixth-richest man and the Indian state machinery. Together they will decide what type of advertisements a user should see, what type of people they should be connecting with and they will do a mapping of each user’s psychographic and demographic details to make the largest human database in the world.
India has 500m smartphone users and 77% of them, ie, 385m are mobile internet users. There is a report by a firm called Kantar that projects that the number of internet users in India will rise to 639m by the end of 2020. According to this report, rural India has an internet penetration of 264m, which is all set to grow to 304m by the end of 2020. There have been 2.5 times rise in penetration since 2016 when Ambani launched Jio. Ambani’s ability to have the Modi regime tweak laws in favour of Jio Platforms has contributed to this rise of Reliance Jio. With Facebook, Google, Intel and the US government’s wholehearted support, Jio Platforms will become the digital superpower in the Indian telecom space and will easily shackle millions through its opaque-yet-alluring solutions.
Google owns Android, the most popular smartphone operating system. With the help of Android, Gmail, Google Maps and Google Search data, Google can create a perfect surveillance state system for the Modi regime. When Facebook joins the nexus, it helps the Modi regime with the information on the political views of the citizens, their preferences, choices, friends, social connections, love affairs, etc.
As the popular messaging app WhatsApp is also owned by Facebook, the daily communication of any individual can be easily snooped upon. Last year, the revelation of such hacking into the WhatsApp chats of activists by an Israeli snooping program deployed by some unscrupulous elements created an upheaval. When this surveillance will run on an industrial scale and Ambani will enjoy a monopoly in mobile communication space, it will make Jio Platforms the giant all will fear and, at the same time, remain shackled to.
By harping upon Jio Platforms, Ambani isn’t just changing the fortune of his RIL, but, aided by the Modi regime, the US imperialist cartel and giants like Facebook, Google, etc, he will become the quasi-ruler of India with an absolute monopoly over data. With Jio Platforms and its 5G-based technology, Ambani will not only be able to sell private data of Indian people to big foreign corporations, but also to the Modi regime to help it establish its Hindutva fascist tyrannical state on the foundations of a 360-degree surveillance system. Moreover, people’s opinion-forming will be tightly controlled by these social media platforms and traditional media platforms affiliated with Ambani, which will eventually make him a demigod.
To thwart this sinister attempt by Ambani, in cahoots with the Modi regime, the US imperialism and its giant corporations, a people’s democratic struggle is required to boycott and resist the company’s zealot drive to monopolise Indian people’s access to information and its snooping on private lives. On one hand, there is a need to form a strong movement at the grassroots to educate the people about the importance of their private data, while on the other hand, it’s imperative to stir a movement to boycott Reliance products and stop the installation of 5G towers by Jio. It’s only by stirring such a mass movement against the corporate transgression and government’s obnoxious agenda, that the nefarious nexus can be resisted from controlling the lives of 600m Indian people. If this isn’t done immediately, the future will be gloomier for all.
An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker