Vol. XLIII No. 20 May 19, 2019
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Corporates: The Real Beneficiaries of BJP’s Schemes

IF Indians were to vote on the basis of just the number of schemes that were introduced by BJP government, there is no doubt BJP would win hands down in the ongoing elections. Modi introduced what seems like hundreds of schemes – Pradhan Mantri Employment Generation Programme, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri so and so Yojana etc.  Sadly, for BJP, people vote on the basis of the actual benefit the schemes have brought to them than on the basis of the sheer number of the schemes announced.

Pradhan Mantri’s employment programme, has not created any new employment. If anything, there is a net loss of employment under BJP government. Fasal Bhima Yojana benefitted the corporates more than the kisan. Skill India brought no jobs to those who have got the skills. The bank accounts given under Jan Dhan Yojana are lying unused.

Yet, there is one highly successful scheme of BJP government under Modi, that has not received any media attention. This is the Pradhan Mantri Billionaire Badhao - Billionaire Bachao - Billionaire Banao Yojana. The success of this scheme is even more remarkable for the fact that the scheme has never been publicly announced by the government. We have come to perceive the existence of the scheme, only through the results it has achieved. As such there is a need to understand and appreciate this scheme.

Under this scheme, already thriving billionaires added more billions to their networth. Those that were not doing so well were given a helping hand to retain their wealth. Those who were not billionaires to begin with, were lifted in to the billionaire wealth bracket by the Modi government.

So, let us have look at the some important beneficiaries of this scheme

MUKESH AMBANI × 2

India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani has become doubly richer with in the first four years under Modi government. Between 2014 and 2019 his wealth more than doubled from about $ 23 billion to $ 55 billion. It means, Mukesh Ambani accumulated more wealth in the five years under BJP government than all the wealth he made and inherited in the entire 58 years of his life before Modi became the prime minister.

No doubt, Ambani worked really hard to earn Rs 122 crore per day in the last five years. Yet, credit should be given where it is really due. Mukesh Ambani has to concede that without BJP government’s policy help, his billions would have been fewer.

This all began with Ambani’s launch of Reliance Jio in September of 2016. All of us remember when Jio was launched with full page newspaper ads. The person endorsing Jio brand was no other than the prime minister, who appeared on the advertisements wearing a dress that was colour coordinated to match with the JIO logo. There were the usual denials that the pictures were used without prime minister’s permission. But most of us know that Reliance would not have dared to use  Modi’s image without some tacit prior understanding.

From its commercial launch in September 2016, Jio’s subscriber base skyrocketed within two years – like never seen in India’s telecom history. This is largely thanks to Telecom Regulator Authority of India (TRAI) tweaking its policy for the undue benefit of Reliance Jio. One month after Jio was launched, TRAI announced a steep cut in interconnection charge, resulting in a fall of these charges by less than 50 per cent. This meant that Jio had to pay very little to connect the calls of its subscribers to a much larger subscriber base of its competitors. This was a blow to the existing telecom operators like Airtel and Vodafone and boon to Reliance Jio.

Earlier in 2016, when Reliance Jio was in testing phase, TRAI arbitrarily imposed a penalty of more than Rs 3000 crore on the other operators, for not providing enough interconnecting points to Jio. Even though, according to their license agreements, the incumbent operators had 90 days to provide the points of interconnect (PoI) to Jio, TRAI imposed a penalty before the 90 day period was over. This resulted in an undue advantage to Jio.

Again, when Jio’s competitors started complaining of its predatory pricing behaviour, TRAI once more tweaked the rules, in 2018, for the benefit of Jio. Because the rules on predatory pricing behaviour apply to only a company with significant market power, TRAI changed the rules of determining market power, in favour Jio. Till then market power was calculated on the basis of four metrics – revenue market share, subscriber market share, volume of traffic and capacity. But, to benefit Jio and to show its market power lower than it actually is, TRAI simply removed volume of traffic and capacity as metrics of market power. As a result Jio with its deep pockets, could continue its predatory behaviour by undercutting its competitors.

Thanks to his efforts on behalf of Jio, Modi government reappointed R S Sharma as the TRAI chairman, for two more years. This is the first time in the history of TRAI that somebody has been reappointed as the chairman. Now, Sharma can continue his services to Jio for another two years.

There is no doubt, Mukesh Ambani’s doubled billions are the result of government and the telecom regulatory authority’s fatherly interest in Reliance Jio. A look at the chronology of Mukesh Ambanis’ net worth makes this clear. From 2014 to 2016 there was hardly any change in Mukesh Ambani’s net worth – it remained at about $23 billion. After Reliance Jio’s commercial launch, his net worth sky rocketed and reached $55 billion in 2019. Not a shoddy piece of work in three years. One can imagine the miracles Ambani can work, if Modi is given another five years in office.

ADANI KALYAN YOJANA

When talking of Modi’s billionaires, one must certainly not forget Gautam Adani, his best friend forever. The rise of Adani in the business world seemed to have gone hand-in-hand with Modi’s ascent to power in Gujarat in 2001. As a true friend, Modi has been relentless in improving the lot of his good friend. During Modi’s tenure in Gujarat, Adani Enterprises’ assets grew by a mind boggling 5000 per cent. We are not sure, if an ordinary Gujarati has seen such growth in his income under Modi.

By the time Modi ended his tenure in Gujarat, Adani was a billionaire with a net worth of  $ 2.6 billion. And, the fruits of this friendship continued to bear after Modi’s shift to Delhi. Adani’s net worth more than quadrupled to $11.9 billions – in just the first four years of Modi rule.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

Do you remember all the foreign countries the prime minister visited over the last five years apparently to shore up India’s standing in the international arena. While he was at it, our prime minister also managed to drum up some business for his friend. Thanks to this, Adani was able to ink 15 deals related to defence, logistics and power with many of the countries that the prime minister has visited.

The infamous Carmichael mine project, which faced protests in Australia since its inception for financial irregularities and tax evasion, was signed between Australian government and Adani during Modi’s visit to that country, just few months after he became prime minister. In the same visit, it was announced that State Bank of India, India’s largest public sector bank, would provide a loan of $ 1billion to Adani for this Australian Project.

A $15.5 billion project as well as an easy loan to execute it! What more can a friend wish for, you think? Yet, there were more goodies in store for Adani.

The rapid expansion of Adani group over the last decade was built on large loans Adani took from the banking system. In 2015, the Adani group had Rs 92,000 crore debt on its book, earning a place in a list called ‘House of Debt’ compiled by Credit Suisse. According to the report, Adani is in the august company of Anil Ambani as one among the top four India corporate groups with the highest levels of unsustainable debt. Credit Suisse categorised 1/3rd of Adani group’s debt as ‘highly stressed’, which means that the group was not in a position to make repayments on this debt.

In 2017, Adani Power alone had total borrowings of Rs 53,000 crores, with an interest cover of as low as 0.7. For every 70 rupees that Adani Power was making, it had to make interest payments of 100 rupees – implying that it was defaulting on loan payments.

Despite this desperate situation, Adani group did not seem to have any NPAs with banking system. What is the secret behind such an extraordinary feat?

Here is the secret. Within two months of Modi coming power, public sector banks under RBI’s 5/25 refinance scheme, have restructured and refinanced loans of many of the corporates – extending the loan repayment periods from 10 years to 25 years. Adani group has been one of the main beneficiaries of this scheme. From the financial press, we know that at least Rs 15,000 crore of Adani Power’s loans have been restructured, extending the loan repayment period from 10 years to 25 years with a 15-month moratorium on interest payments. No doubt, more such loans of Adani group have been restructured on similarly benevolent terms. This is also the reason why, despite its mountain of highly stressed debt, Adani group’s market valuations have been going from strength to strength.

The list of favours given to Adani under the BJP government may seem endless. Yet, there is one that stands above others, for it involves subversion of government institutions.

In 2014 and 2015, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) issued notices to three of Adani’s power sector firms regarding diversion of Rs 4000 crores to tax havens through over-invoicing of power equipment.

DRI’s evidence showed that Adani power companies purchased power equipment from abroad, which was shipped by their Chinese and South Korean sellers directly from their ports to Indian ports, with no diversion in the middle. But, on paper, it was shown that the equipment was first purchased by a Dubai based firm called Electrogen Infra, a company owned by Adani’s brother Vinod Adani. Again on paper, Electrogen Infra then sold the same equipment to Adani power companies, at price as high as 800 per cent of the original price. DRI said that through this scam, Adani illegally diverted more than Rs 5000 crore to overseas tax havens.

To those following the scam, it seemed like an open and shut case. Yet, explicably, DRI’s adjudicating authority summarily dropped all the proceedings against Adani on August 21, 2017. Four days later, Gautam Adani seemed to have met Modi’s revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia. Is it to thank for a favour done, for we cannot help but suspect yet another favour done by Modi here?

Of course, one understands the prime minister’s compulsion in shielding and coddling Adani. After putting in so much effort in building his friend into billionaire, Modi probably feels it is his duty to make sure Adani stays one.

RAFALE OF AMBANI’S PLATTER

There is one billionaire who has not done so well under Narendra Modi’s regime. It is a universal knowledge that the younger Ambani brother has been having some rough times, these last few years. His net-worth dropped from $6.3 to $1.8 billion in the last five years. But, one can completely absolve Modi government of any blame in the younger Ambani’s loss of billions and slide into billionaire poverty. In fact, Modi put in a commendable effort to restore the Junior Ambani’s lost billions.

It is no secret that Anil Ambani’s group owed a great deal of money to Indian banking system, and that his group is one of the main contributors to the NPA woes of the banking sector. One of his group companies, Rcom has at least Rs 14,000 crore of NPAs with the banks. The figures may actually be much higher, but are not made public yet. Another group company, Reliance Naval and Engineering defaulted on Rs 9,000 crores to the banks, most of which is to the public sector banks.

This is only the information in the public domain. Much of the information regarding the bad loans is shrouded in secrecy. Only god and the government knows what is the actual amount of NPAs of the entire Anil Ambani group.

A less compassionate government would have initiated action against Ambani, the promoter of these companies. It may have taken steps to confiscate Ambani’s assets. After all, government is the owner of the public sector banks, as well as the representative of Indian citizens, whose deposits have been lent by these banks to Ambani.

But, not Modi. Instead, Modi has chosen to help the junior Ambani recover his lost fortunes. The result being Rafale scheme/scam. Though, most readers are familiar with this scheme, there is no harm in recounting the salient features.

In 2012, the UPA government negotiated with the French company Dassault, for 126 Rafale fighter jets, to add to the fleet in Indian Air Force. According to this agreement which was almost finalised – out of the 126 aircraft, India would buy 18 in the finished form directly from Dassault. While, the rest of the 108 Rafale jets will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), with technology transfer from Dassault.

HAL is one of India’s Navratna public sector companies and as such needs no introduction. It has more than half a decade experience of manufacturing and supplying fighter aircraft to the Indian Air Force.

In 2015, Modi decided to scrap this deal and make a new one. Why? So that the experienced HAL can be replaced by an Ambani company, which has ‘zero’ experience in any kind of defence manufacturing. Moreover the Ambani company was set up just 12 days before Modi’s visit to France to discuss the deal.

The special consideration given to Anil Ambani company at the expense of HAL is obviously part of Modi’s ‘Billionaire Bachao’ scheme. As any other government scheme, this scheme had its costs. Modi government agreed to buy a smaller number of the aircraft (36) at a much higher cost, just so that, Reliance could be brought into the deal. Different estimates put the loss to government due to the Rafale deal, at Rs 12,000 - 42,000 crore.

Unlike the one negotiated in 2012, the new Rafale deal, does not include any technology transfer to India. Many defence analysts see this as a big setback for India’s efforts to become  self-reliant in defence manufacturing.

One Rafale deal, no matter how much it cost the government and the people, is clearly not enough to restore the Ambani fortunes. So, apart from the Rafale deal, Modi found time to fix up at least five more deals for Anil Ambani in Sweden, Russia, Israel, USA and other countries, during his globe-trotting. Some may say that this is less number of deals than what Modi fixed up for Adani. But, the naysayers have to accept that Modi has shown a good deal of magnanimity towards Anil who once hobnobbed with BJP’s arch enemy in Uttar Pradesh – the Samjawadi Party. By helping this billionaire in rescuing his fortunes, Modi proved that he is everyone’s prime minister – as long as they are rich and are capable of keeping BJP flush with campaign funds.

BABA TO BILLIONAIRE

If we are counting the beneficiaries of five years of BJP rule, one must not forget Baba Ramdev. Unlike others who have been billionaires before Modi came to power, Modi can claim credit for single handedly making a baba into a billionaire.

During the 2014 parliamentary elections, Baba Ramdev was one of the most vocal non-political party campaigners for Modi. The elastic limbed baba who had become huge TV celebrity through his Yoga shows, openly exhorted and herded his lakhs of followers into voting for Modi. The fact that Ramdev’s role in BJP’ win has been crucial is accepted by no less weighty personage than the arrogant Amit Shah, who  humbly thanked  the baba after elections, for ‘contributing significantly to the formation of the Narendra Modi government at the centre’. Union finance minister Jaitely went so far as to compare Baba Ramdev to “Mahatma Gandhi’ for his support.

This alliance of baba’s spiritual Hindu nationalism with BJP’s political Hindu nationalism has been fruitful for both the parties. Modi swept to power at the centre, while Baba Ramdev expanded his spiritual empire into the economic realm.

The prime minister has shown his gratitude by employing the might of government machinery in turning the yogi baba into the frontman for a multi-billion dollar FMCG empire called ‘Patanjali’.

From what one can glean from news reports, ‘Patanjali’ which was founded by Baba Ramdev, is at the moment officially owned by his second-in-command and disciple ‘Acharya Balakrishna’. The actual ownership may seem a bit murky, with ‘Patanjali’ brand being controlled by some 34 companies and three trusts – with large dividend payments (up to 60 per cent of the profits) going to Baba Ramdev’s brother and his close aide Acharya Balakrishna. Whatever may be the finer details, there is no doubt that Baba Ramdev is the ‘super boss’ at Patanjali.

Between 2014 and 2018, Patanjali went from a relatively fringe enterprise into a  billion dollar company, placing its owner among the 20 richest people in India with a net worth of more than $ 6 billion. From making obscure herbal powders and jellies, Baba’s company leap-frogged into manufacturing a whole range of household products like – soaps, detergents, tooth pastes, kitchen supplies, baby powders, wet wipes, digestive biscuits, cookies, corn flakes, vermicelli and what not. You name it, Patanjali makes it. Ramdev brand ripped jeans, which are apparently designed with Bharatiya Sanskar in mind, are already here.

The consequence is that within a span of four years, ‘Patanjali’ ate into the market shares of established FMCG giants such as Hindustan Unilever, Dabur and others, which have been around for decades.

This skyrocketing growth of Patanjali happened under the benevolent gaze of Modi and Shah. They have leaned in with their government’s machinery and fully supported Ramdev’s commercial endeavour.

In what can only be called a poetic gesture of gratitude – BJP government served Patanjali products on parliament’s dining tables. It pushed Patanjali products in government owned Kendriya Bhandars, army canteens and fair price shops in various states led by the BJP. Since 2014, Patanjali received about 2000 acres of land for setting up factories and other facilities, at throw away prices. Patanjali’s factories even got security at expenses of public exchequer. CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) protection, which is not usually provided to private sector, was given to Patanjali Food Park in Haridwar. It was given lucrative government contracts. The list of favours goes on and on.

The government’s excuse for such disproportionate affection shown to Patanjali has been that it is trying to promote Swadeshi products in India. Yet, it is perplexing why these favours were not done to other Swadeshi owned companies like Dabur, Emami and scores of others. May be, they were not saffron enough.

MODI GETS THE VOTES OF HIS BENEFICIARIES

The benevolence to billionaires has not gone unrewarded. The billionaires have already voted in with their money. More than 70 per cent of the corporate donations given to national parties during Modi’s term went to the BJP, not to forget the copious and completely uncritical air time Modi has been getting in the corporate owned media.

If only ordinary Indians can stop hankering after paltry benefits like employment, minimum support prices, farm loan waiver, affordable health care and education, cheap electricity, cooking gas, etc. etc., under Modi regime, they have the opportunity to become billionaires one after another, if they survive long enough.