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HomeOpinionEveryone loves to hate a billionaire—attack on Ambani, Adani shows why

Everyone loves to hate a billionaire—attack on Ambani, Adani shows why

A govt servant using the official car for private work is as much of a corrupt practice as an Arhatiya under-weighing the farm produce.

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Everyone loves to hate a billionaire. This is a fact of modern life. In India though, hate has a tendency to be translated into direct action, quite fast. We have seen some of it in social media discussions surrounding the farmers’ agitation against the recent farm laws — they started vilifying Adani and Ambani. In Punjab, protesting farmers took it a step forward when they called for the boycott of the establishment and services associated with these two large conglomerations. In some places, they even disabled a few cell phone towers “of a certain company”. Others asserted that the riches of such corporations were a consequence of corruption, sharp practices and some undefined skullduggery.

Till just a few years ago, Tata and Bata were the favourite targets; perhaps because their names rhymed so well. Such vilification is quite understandable because the popular belief is that people with money have made their fortunes through some fraudulent means. There is little appreciation that most people who end up being rich, are so because of their hard work and a single-minded drive to achieve ‘success’.

Allow me to point out the interconnections between the current anger of farmers in Punjab and their mistrust of any change.

Also read: Rahul backs farm protests but Amarinder ‘keen’ they end, deploys officials to broker truce

The trust deficit

Much of the farmers’ anger seems to be stemming from the idea that if allowed to set up mandis, corporates would cheat them, much like the evil moneylender and zamindar in old Indian films. In Punjab, even the passing of the Land Alienation Act(1901), which limited the ownership of land only to ‘agricultural tribes’, did not assuage these fears. There is also this belief, nurtured since Independence, that weak and inept governance ensures rules are only meant to favour the powerful. In modern societies, however, formal organisations/entities are not free to cheat and exploit at will.

Our starting point to understand this culture of distrust should be the free-riding Indian. India is a society that loves free riding more than it appreciates fairness, even in the most routine of transactions. Just stand by the local greengrocer to see how many of us insist on being given a free bunch of dhania (coriander)— a feeling that does not translate into insisting that the vegetables on sale be properly weighed, without water being sprinkled on them to increase their weight. The fact remains that life seldom offers free lunches. Few of the happy customers realise that the free dhania is in lieu of their willingness to buy water-soaked vegetables.

Business deals that are successful and last, are built on creation of real and fair value. And yet in India, there is widespread currency for the idea that the businessperson (as also the politician) is the ultimate ‘fixer’. We completely ignore the hard work done systematically over many years and the trust it creates.

Also read: The problem Rahul Gandhi has created for Amarinder Singh in Punjab by backing farmer protests

The stereotypes

Things that are believed to be real often have real consequences. The conniving businessperson, the corrupt bureaucrat, the bumbling police person have been stock images in our public discourse. Such stereotypes lead to a comprehensive atmosphere of mistrust. The mistrust is magnified by the inept creation of laws, rules and regulations— the social infrastructure that holds modern society together.

Unfortunately, in India, an atmosphere has been created where informal ways of functioning overwhelm the society and governance infrastructure. And the frequent petty corruption that this generates is not only tolerated but appreciated. The avoidance of taxes by giving no formal receipts for merchandise sold remains as much of a corrupt practice as a government servant using the official car for private work, or an Arhatiya under-weighing the farm produce. Yet, such behaviour remains widespread even among those who claim to fight corruption. The trouble is that when such behavior becomes the norm, distrust becomes the norm too, because everybody expects to be cheated by everyone else. Those who succeed through fair and trustworthy practices are then looked at with great suspicion.

Trust and truthfulness are, of course, non-negotiable. We know that formal businesses that hope to survive routinely follow rules. No doubt many of them indulge in creative bookkeeping for the occasional sneak profit. But if they were to do so on a large scale and continuously, they would collapse. The failure of Enron Corporation and of Satyam Infotech are only a few of many such examples that have been fully investigated to indicate that businesses built on cheating don’t survive. Businesses that succeed over time do so because they created some value for society; not because of corrupt practices.

Social distrust and stereotypes of behaviour can be a serious drag on economic growth. The only way out is to craft good rules and follow these.

Meeta Rajivlochan is an IAS officer and author of Making India Great Again: Learning from our History. Views are personal.

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  1. The only point you made is to show your inclination for a post-retirement job. Maybe you slept through the lectures on ethics and neutrality in LBSNAA.

  2. Dear IAS officer,
    Ratan Tata, Azim Premji and Anand Mahindra are also billionaires why there are not much hate on those 3 like your employers?

  3. Written with a clear agenda – to defend these corrupt fixers of everything in this country. I can’t believe the editors would let this pass (even in the opinion column!). The lady is clearly inspired by Trump if she wants to “Make India Great Again” so I won’t even venture to assess her judgement (or lack thereof). But for the editor to let this through is really telling of where “The Print” is headed – to the same pandering and sycophancy of the sold media it promised an alternative to.

  4. I wish they placed the author’s bio before her article. I wouldn’t have had to waste 15 minutes reading the circular prevarication of a right-wing former executive looking for post-retirement employment. You’ll be a good fit for the company law tribunal ma’am.
    You operate on the laughable assumption that corporates’ money is made out of personal industry. What about the money that Anil Ambani, a failed corporate head, reeling under bad debts, will make from the Rafale deal? Surely, the value he created for society was in the negative, and therefore, his company was withering. Why then, did the government decide to nurse him back to affluence through a defense deal, doing so at the possible cost of low-quality jets (given that Reliance will be making jets for the first time, unlike HAL), and possibly at the cost of the IAF pilots who man these aircrafts in the future.
    Anybody with any knowledge about company law knows well that Ambani’s track record has been anything but scrupulous, when it comes to legal compliance.
    So please, dear author, grow a conscience. Don’t let your visceral inclinations blind you to what’s written on the wall. America was made great again on Jan 6. I wonder, given the name of your book, if you’ll be the lady who dons a viking helmet when you storm the Capitol in India.

  5. The whole world understands that businesses become big and important when they identify a market need and operate to extract that value. None of these statements need be controversial — India needs a lesson in basic market economics thought as part of high school education. India has large government, but that doesn’t translate to governance — you need a strong competition commission that ensures no one gets too big and cartelization doesn’t occur. The hatred for wealth is a 70s idiocy — there’s no need to hate wealth, a profit motive drives private business and value creation and hence competition.

    The article could be better written, but a lot of the sentiments about trust deficit is true. India needs to unshackle itself off this fear of corporate takeover of life. No corporate wants to horde a product that rots easily, that too in a an industry like farming where you can find alternative products rather easily. We have used a formula for agriculture that has failed farmers and created powerful middlemen — for once let’s try to create competition. If the middlemen can’t keep up with the competition, they will perish and that’s completely fine — creative destruction is a central tenet of good capitalism.

  6. You cite two examples of large companies which went under , and then suggest that they went under because they indulged in corrupt practices.

    Both the companies you mention had been in business for more than 15 years , and established a great reputation for themselves , before the scandals broke.

    Can we not therefore conclude that all industrialists who make it big are potential crooks who have not yet been caught out in their shenanigans ?

    Why has SEBI imposed a 70 crore penalty on Reliance ?

    Do you think that a company which has been caught in such an offence can otherwise be a torchbearer for probity ?

  7. Thumbs down. Recommend the writer read A Feast of Vultures by Josy Joseph. Businessmen-politician nexus n crony capitalism.

  8. Sad to see Shekhar Gupta and his Print becoming a soft toady and apologist for the modi government and its cronies. The farm laws seem to have a lot of good in it, but has anyone analysed the practical reality in states that have abolished APMC’s and have market operations.
    This article is also in the same vein. The author can expect a good job in Reliance or Adani on retirement. If such cynicism exists today, aren’t people like this author also responsible. What has he done in personal capacity to change things.

  9. IAS and at that having a platform of ” Making India great again” first thing I wish to say that love and hate are at two opposite poles. A new terminology has been discovered relating these two terminology. No one loves a man who makes profit out of miseries of human being. Why is it that in an European countries no one targets a rich man, but here in India they are and so are the honest men. Dishonesty sells at a premium here in India while disincentives are largely made available for those who are honest. IAS are a separate breed altogether who toe the line of their Political Bosses, their loyalty weighs much more to the Political establishment than to the constitution and they hide behind such forums while they are willing ever to disown such forums if there is a change in Political leaders. And to say just one word that Trump has shown how to make America great again and let this IAS see this for himself . The effort to make India great again should be made available to see that people can live with dignity of life and the livelihood supports that. Ambanis, Adanis think that making India great again is to make Modi great forever and they pour their profit to make themselves the richest man of the year.

  10. Reliance JIO entered the telecom market by pricing its products below cost, which is a major breach of competition policy and is illegal. Moreover TRAI helped JIO in its quest for market domination by allowing JIO to offer free services 6 months while the legal time is 3 months. That is a clear case of government collusion. Today, the telecom sector has been effectively reduced to a duopoly from 12 players earlier. The entry of JIO has bankrupted the telecom sector while banks which lent to these players have been left with huge NPAs.
    “Successful” companies like Standard Oil, US Steel, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, AT&T, Walmart have all engaged in outrageous anti-competitive and illegal practices. The recent anti-trust cases against Facebook, Google and Amazon are a case in point where what they do to maintain market power is not only illegal but highly unethical. So please stop peddling this lie of a “successful” business having gained its dominant position by sheer hard work and merit because history has shown it to be otherwise.

  11. Common people are not muppets as many people in positions of power think.They only need to look at what happened in the telecom sector with recent entry of Reliance in the field to know what awaits them! A sector with true competition with 11 providers have gone down to three providers with the other two struggling to survive in the afce of onslaught from Jio and the sector will soon become a monopoly or duopoly with consumers having not choice .The farmers know that without MSP and mandis, before long, they will be at the mercy of corporates ,who will force down the prices for enriching their bottom lines.If the farmers are just jealous of billionaires, why are they not protesting against Tata or Godrej or Mahindra and who is there ire only against Ambani and Adani? It is because they know who this government is batting for.

  12. It is strange that on one side some dislike billionaires while at the same time eulogising startups. As long as the business is done by honest means, we should welcome people who do well, rather than run them down. Being poor cannot be made a virtue.

  13. Why have the writer absolved ‘Pseudo socialist’ common man who has been poisoned by so called Commies over the decade?

    This hypocrite common man won’t mind his son or daughter joining these rich people’s companies. However this hypocrite common man is elated after hearing the placement of their children in the companies owned by the same Ambani-Adani .
    Lot to say …but

  14. India needs big Industrialists who are the engines of growth and people should understand that without them we cannot compete with the best in the world. If they invest in the domestic market and earn a profit, there is nothing wrong. They can help the farmers with the kind of infrastructural support which the farmers need for growth and high profitability. The Government has limitations vis-a-vis big Industrialists which people must understand and should allow themselves to be misled.

  15. The petty corruption happening at the grassroot level the author eludes to is a percolation of the systematic well organised corruption having it’s root at the top echelon of the society.

    If we seek out history and are brave enough to acknowledge all the bumps and warts, one will be able to trace the beginning of corruption in India and also be able to crown “Father of Corruption “

  16. Everybody only hates billionaires who use their wealth to fund political parties which then only function for their benefit. Modi has done everything in his power to benefit Ambani and adani. Now he wants everyone to be enslaved to coorporations. It’s only natural that people resist.

  17. I see your point of view mam, when corporate honchos like Adani and Ambani develop their businesses and make profit, it is good for our economy, there is nothing wrong in that, but, when government starts selective favouritism by making laws favourable to only few corporates, then that is crony capitalism, and people should and will call that out. Most of the protests against Adani & Ambani is for the same reason otherwise there are 10s of big private corporations like Infosys, Godrej group etc. nobody is protesting against them. You being an IAS officer and completely ignoring this point of view makes me wonder are you looking for after service employment.

  18. Either the author is naive or a front for one of the business houses. Pretty poor article and I wonder why The Print deigned to put this out

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