MOTTO FOR BUSINESS IN INDIA—CAVEAT EMPTOR—BUYER BEWARE
Business in India is crony capitalism at its best. Over my long tenure there, we were largely beholden to the state enterprise bureaucrats who were slow and methodical but for the most part, all on the up and up. Moreover, energy needs in India take a visible priority that surpasses most personal interests on the part of the politicians. On the other hand, cronyism and deception can have a prominent role to play in other commercial and political endeavors. The friends of Prime Minister Modi are no different than those most anywhere though the numbers can be bigger given sources of free-flowing debt financing, as well as the romance of equity capital in exploding economies to outside investors.
Recently, The Financial Times published an article entitled Adani Stock Market Losses Hit $145 Billion One Month After Short Seller Attack. The sell-off was triggered by New York-based Hindenburg Research, which accused Gautam Adani of stock manipulation and accounting fraud while shorting his share prices all the way down. The market impact caused Adani a $79 billion reduction in his own personal wealth which would disturb most anyone, though the loss of the Asia title of the wealthiest person to Mukesh Ambani, may have hurt a bit more. Moreover, The Financial Times highlights the allegation that Adani has close ties to Modi which have facilitated deals everywhere from Myanmar to Israel. Clearly the smiling image of Adani below was taken before the bottom fell out in his share price.
The Financial Times published another article entitled The Adani Affair Rocks Modi’s India. Apparently, Adani has been a supporter of Modi’s agenda investing billions of dollars in the areas the government considered a priority. By way of example, a few days prior to the publication of Adani’s financial troubles, he was shaking hands with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu completing a deal to take over Haifa’s port for $1.2 billion. It was clearly a landmark for Israel as well as a milestone for Indian business and a prime investment agreement for Adani’s ports division to run critical infrastructure in a security-conscious rich country. Moreover, it significantly burnished Modi’s credentials on the world stage. However, things turned very sour a few days later when the Deccan Herald, an Indian publication few of you probably read, ran a headline that the opposition Congress party planned government protests on the Adani issue.
Another issue which has arisen in the booming Indian trade circles is that you do not always get what you ordered. On February 17, an explosive Financial Times article disclosed that Trafigura, the world’s largest private metals trader, was chasing $577 million in missing nickel from a prominent Indian business tycoon. Apparently, they were receiving fake metallic cargos that did not contain nickel. That story reminded me of an expatriate acquaintance of mine many years ago who could never solve the problem of his youngster’s continued illness in India. Finally, a local asked him how they received their milk to which he responded that it was delivered every day and left on their doorstep. The local responded that someone was extracting the pasteurized milk and replacing it with contaminated animal milk of unknown origin. My friend asked for a transfer out of India and ultimately became the CEO of a major oil company.
The politicians in India are also trying to contend with an aggressive press and media that discloses all the frailties in their systems. The New York Times published the article Indian Tax Agents Raid BBC Offices After Airing of Documentary Critical of Modi. A British Broadcasting Corporation documentary had been critical of Modi’s treatment of the Muslim minority. It is ironic that the icon news media of the former British master of India would be subject to such invasive treatment as retribution for a critical article though it happens in the western world as well.
The Economist had preceded that article with one addressing India’s culture war in Bollywood v BJP. A Muslim megastar in the booming Indian equivalent of Hollywood had socked it to the Hindu right. The famous Indian actress, Deepika Padukone, was featured in a mega Bollywood film wearing a saffron bikini. The joyless bullies of the Hindu right went berserk at what they considered to be a rebuke of their religion’s sacred color. Bollywood is often a target of the BJP given the number of Muslim leading men, most notably Shah Rukh Khan (King Khan). Modi interceded to call off the silliness of his religious right which made the point that the BJP’s hate-filled ideology may have a lock on the ballot box, but at the box office King Khan’s message of love and fraternity still reigns. Deepika Padukone is shown below in more suitable apparel for this publication.
Freedom at Midnight occurred from 1947 to 1948 with the partition and migration of vast numbers of Muslims to create Pakistan, a country which was formed to support the Muslim faith. During that process, the liberation of the former British colony left a trail of religious deaths though some number of Muslims chose to remain behind in India which left them in a minority position. Once again, religion is used effectively by politicians to control the masses; merchants support the politicians to seek commercial favors; the media can often be a weapon to grease or influence the various interests; and the tax man becomes the arbiter to keep it all in balance. Obviously, India has joined the ranks of becoming a front row participant in the world order which may be a dubious club to join.
Strangely, India was the country that originated the calming faith of Buddhism in the sixth century though it became extinct there 600 years later as it was overcome by the all-embracing nature of Hinduism and Muslim invasions. Ironically, while all this Indian turmoil was occurring in February, Buddhists all over the world were celebrating Parinirvana Day which remembers the date when the Buddha entered Nirvana. Although The BJP may think the color saffron is deep in their Hindu identity, you will note below that it is prominent in the Buddhist faith which preceded Hinduism by many centuries.
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