New Delhi: After the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cold-shouldered Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, India Inc rolled out the red carpet for him in the country's financial capital.
Bezos, who was in India for a high-profile visit, had announced on Wednesday the e-commerce giant's plans to create one million jobs in the country through investments in technology, infrastructure and its logistics network. However, he did not get time from top government functionaries. On top of that, there were stinging comments from Piyush Goyal, Minister for Railways and Commerce, telling Amazon that they were not doing a favour by investing a billion dollars in India.
India Inc welcomes Bezos
The who's who of India Inc met with Bezos during their roundtable session in Mumbai.
The business leaders who attended the meeting were a mix of business partners, FMCG companies, bankers and others. The list for people invited for the interaction included Reliance Industries Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani, Adi Godrej, Sunil Mittal of Bharti Airtel, Infosys' former CEO N.R. Narayana Murthy.
Narayana Murthy is a business partner with Amazon as his Catamaran has a stake in Cloudtail, the largest seller on Amazon.
The others included Infosys CEO Salil Parekh, Kishore Biyani of Future Retail, which has recently done a tie-up with Amazon. BS Nagesh of Shopper's Stop was also present with Amazon having recently acquired 5 per cent stake in it.
The FMCG biggies were present in full strength with Amazon being aggressive on the grocery and staples space. Sanjiv Mehta of Unilever, Suresh Narayan of Nestle, and Madhusudan Gopalan of Procter and Gamble were there.
Also, present were the bankers and financial services CEOs - Rajnish Kumar of SBI, Surendra Rosha of HSBC, Kaku Nakhate of Bank of America and Sanjiv Bajaj of Bajaj Finance.
No executive from Tata or Birla, however, attended the meeting.
The mobile phone partners were also in full strength with William Kim of Samsung, Pete Lau of One Plus, and Manu Jain of Xiaomi. Also present were Bhavish Agarwal of Ola, Ajay Bahl of AZB, Sumeet Narang of Samara Capital.
Senior Reliance group honcho Manoj Modi was also present at the Amazon round table.
BJP camp still impressed
Despite Bezos's tall promises, many in the BJP camp were unimpressed. Vijay Chauthaiwale, the chief of Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) foreign affairs department, slammed the editorial policies of the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post which he claim paint India in a bad light.
There was “a lot of problem” with the newspaper's coverage of India, the leader said.
Eli Lopez, Senior Editor, Global Opinions at the Post responded that Bezos is not telling the paper what to write. "Just to clarify: Jeff Bezos doesn't tell Washington Post journalists what to write. Independent journalism is not about charming governments. But there's no question the work of our correspondents and columnists fits within India's democratic traditions."
Chauthaiwale has in the past been critical of foreign media's reporting on political issues, including Kashmir, saying coverage has been biased against Modi.
Amazon under fire
The swipe at the Post came a day after Minister for Railways and Commerce Piyush Goyal gave short shrift to Amazon's investment plans for India.
“They may have put in a billion dollars, but then, if they make a loss of a billion dollars every year then they jolly well have to finance that billion dollars,” Goyal said in a conference on Thursday.
Amazon’s marketplace arm alone reported a loss of about $800 million in the fiscal year ending March 2019, according to regulatory filings. “How can a marketplace make such a big loss, unless they are indulging in predatory pricing or some unfair trade practices? These are the real questions that need answers,” Goyal said.
Prior to Bezos' visit, fair trade regulator CCI on Monday ordered a probe against e-commerce majors Walmart-owned Flipkart and Amazon India for alleged malpractice including deep discounting and tie-ups with preferred sellers on their platforms.
India's shopkeepers, who represent a core constituency for the BJP since the early days of the party, have taken to the streets in protest against Amazon making Bezos' visit a publicity nightmare.
India last year enforced stringent rules for foreign investment in e-commerce, which forced Amazon to rework its business structures and strained ties between New Delhi and Washington.
In recent months, the government has said it is concerned about issues raised by India's brick-and-mortar retailers who say they've been hit by Amazon and Walmart's Flipkart which flout regulations and burn billions of dollars to offer steep discounts. The companies deny the allegations.
This souring sentiment, many industry executives believe, is likely to put off foreign investors, denting India's economic growth which is already projected to fall to a 11-year low this year.
"This clearly is unbecoming, and it will hurt how the world views India as a destination," said a senior executive of a US-based company operating in India.
An Amazon statement on Friday, however, said Bezos was “excited about what lies ahead.”
(With inputs from agencies)