New Delhi: Amazon Inc. chief executive Jeff Bezos may have announced his e-commerce giant’s massive investment plans for India but that has not stopped the Narendra Modi government from giving him a cold shoulder, in a rare instance of the regime not welcoming a foreign investor.
Bezos, who is on a three-day visit to India, had sought meetings with top government leaders but the appointments were not given, sources told ThePrint.
During the ongoing visit, the world’s richest man has not met either Prime Minister Narendra Modi or any senior cabinet ministers. This is unlike his previous 2014 visit when the Amazon chief had met PM Modi. At the time, Bezos had committed to invest $2 billion in India.
Bezos also met Modi in 2016 during the latter’s visit to the US and made fresh investment commitments of $3 billion in its Indian business. He was also part of the 20 top industry CEOs who met Modi during the PM’s US trip in 2017.
A PMO spokesperson told ThePrint he was not aware if an appointment was sought, adding that he only knows if the PM meets someone or is due to meet someone.
On Wednesday, Bezos announced Amazon’s intent to invest $1 billion to help small businesses move online. He also predicted that the 21st century will be the Indian century.
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) January 15, 2020
This is one of the major investment initiatives by a foreign investor announced in the last few months and comes at a time when growth in the Indian economy is expected to touch an 11-year low of 5 per cent in 2019-20.
However, the Modi government is in a combative mode.
On Thursday, Commerce and Industry minister Piyush Goyal said companies like Amazon and Flipkart are not doing any “favours” to India by investing billions of dollars in India. He also warned them to follow the rules rather than finding any loopholes in law.
The election angle
The minister’s statement comes as the ruling BJP is keen to not displease the politically important traders’ lobby ahead of the Delhi assembly elections.
The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has been staging protests all over the country against Bezos’ visit and demanding that e-commerce firms adhere to the regulations set under the foreign direct investment (FDI) policy. Some members of the organisation have even claimed that foreign e-commerce players are “economic terrorists”.
The statements by BJP leaders also suggest that the ruling party’s displeasure with the Amazon CEO could be linked to Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post‘s criticism of some of the policy decisions of the Modi government — the scrapping of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Vijay Chauthaiwale, in-charge of BJP’s foreign affairs department, alluded to this in his tweet as he told Bezos that his “charm offensive” is likely to be a “waste of time and money” if he doesn’t tell his “employees in Washington DC” about his views on India.
— Dr Vijay Chauthaiwale (@vijai63) January 16, 2020
It has been a difficult time for foreign e-market places in India with opposition from local traders and the indigenous lobby tightening scrutiny over their operations as well as raising doubts over the firms’ alleged violations of restrictions placed under the revised contours of the FDI policy.
New rules came into effect from 1 February 2019, setting restrictions on entities linked to e-commerce companies selling their goods in the marketplace.
Ahead of Bezos’ visit, anti-trust regulator, Competition Commission of India, also started a probe against Amazon and Flipkart to see if these marketplaces offer deep discounts killing competition.