Top industry leaders hedge their poll bets

Ambani has been widely seen as being a firm backer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the past five years.

Update: 2019-04-23 19:47 GMT
Mukesh Ambani

Arguably India’s top industrialist, Mukesh Ambani has declared his support to the Congress candidate from South Mumbai, Milind Deora, in a conspicuous fashion, through a video, which the young Mr Deora released with gratitude.

Needless to say, the senior Ambani’s endorsement counts for something — in the world of trade and industry and outside it too. It carries weight because it can help to change perceptions. Remember, the downslide of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s UPA-2 government began when another top industry figure, Aziz Premji, had decried it as suffering from “policy paralysis”.

That had been a shade unfair as over a 10-year period the Manmohan Singh government had delivered about seven per cent growth on an average, even allowing for the slip to just above four per cent in its last two years. This had been due to the international economic environment which was pulling every economy down. And yet Mr Premji, who ought to have known better, accused Dr Singh’s government of policy paralysis, and the perception stuck.

Mr Ambani has been widely seen as being a firm backer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the past five years. That’s also a reason why his open backing to the Congress candidate has occasioned comment. It should also be noted that Mr Ambani’s support to Mr Deora has come along with that of banker Uday Kotak. This makes it a combination of industry and finance backing the Congress in Mumbai’s poshest constituency.

Whatever the result on May 23, all sections of society — including trade, industry and finance — can see that the BJP’s stock is down in this election among all sections of people and the much-vaunted exalted status of some of its leaders is being put to the test.

Leading lights of trade and industry are not generally known to single out a party to back in public, especially at election time. Nevertheless, Mr Ambani can safely assume the stance that his endorsement of Mr Deora is on the personal plane as their families have been good friends over two generations.

This is a safe line. It does not rule out doing business with cordiality with a BJP government in future if that is what the polls throw up. On the other hand, should the Congress come up trumps, endorsing Mr Deora in the middle of the campaign surely can’t hurt. Mr Ambani and Mr Kotak have thus hedged their bets with panache.

For the wider public, the stance of these eminent individuals is full of a potential for a likely demonstration effect. There is a not-so-hidden reason for this, which is that the fragility of the incumbent government — to say nothing of its campaign — is on full view. BJP leaders are trying to clutch at any straw — caste, communal or so-called nationalism.


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