Ranjona Banerji: Bad Publicity for the Big 2

11 Dec,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


Large and small corporations in other parts of the democratic world are often sensitive to public opinion, especially negative public opinion. They also occasionally stand up for democracy and for the social good. In India however such actions are largely manifest in their capitulation to “hurt sentiments” rather than any moral stand or belief in larger democratic and social interests.

It will therefore be interesting to see how India’s two largest corporations, Reliance-owned by Mukesh Ambani and Adani, owned by Gautam Adani, respond to the constant bombardment of allegations of crony capitalism from India’s farmers. The Adanis have issued a clarification that they have not set up storage units to profit from the Modi Government’s new controversial farm acts and that instead these units are only for the Food Corporation of India.

The Ambanis are currently, and congratulations to them, celebrating the arrival of a grandchild.

The several million farmers on protest outside Delhi and in the rest of India have not yet roused them to reaction. But as of now, Ambani and Adani bear the brunt of the anger. Protesting farmers contend that the new farm laws have been put in place to benefit these two companies. And India’s farmers have decided to boycott both companies and their products.

Will Ambani and Adani ride out this storm in brazen defiance or at some time will these two companies feel that they are being unfairly targeted with bad publicity? Bad publicity which is being deflected from the Modi Government’s actions on to them? The laws after all are Narendra Modi’s doing. Whether at the behest of Ambani and Adani are still a matter of conjecture. It is the BJP government at the Centre which holds the primary responsibility.

As the mainstream media continues with the Modi government’s narrative of “All Sikh farmers are Khalistani terrorists” to “farmers are being misled” to “how dare the farmers wear jeans and speak English” to “how dare other political parties politicise the issue” and various other despicable insinuations, smaller independent media outlets and independent journalists provide on the ground coverage.

And some of them pay a heavy price for not toeing the Modi government line. There are reports that a young photo-journalist, Akarshan Uppal, is in hospital in a serious condition after being brutally attacked. Just this week, Uppal had broken the story that the Adani Group had invested in land and registered agro-storage companies before the bills were passed. Hence the clarification mentioned earlier. Whether or not there is any connection between the attack and the company, this is very bad publicity for the Adani Group.

How far will government protection save them from public anger? How far does democracy work in India? Yes, that sounds funny. I agree. If the protesting farmers were part of a Hindutva rightwing group demanding retraction of freedom of expression, most corporations would have caved in without a fight. I give you the Tatas and the Tanishq ad about inter-community marriages.


Meanwhile, all of Thursday, even as farmers had rejected all of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s ideas and after that the government’s “proposals”, mainstream television concentrated on the “bhoomi pujan” for the new Parliament building. This had Modi and some priests conducting a Hindu ceremony for a building to house a legislature in a democracy. India can ill afford such shameful extravagance given the state of our economy. There is an ongoing case questioning this “Central Vista”. But our esteemed Supreme Court allowed this “ceremony” which was nothing but a publicity stunt for Modi, ably assisted by his captive, pliable TV channels.

And then, if we are still a democracy, where was the President of India? Where were representatives of other political parties? The lapdog media, or “Godi Media” as the farmers have made famous, was happy that Modi alone represented India at a Hindu ceremony in a multi-faith nation.

I know. Why do I bother?

Even I wonder sometimes.



Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. This column appears on Tuedays and Fridays. Her views here are personal.



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