oogle Inc CEO Sundar Pichai, in a virtual meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 13 July, has said that Google will invest US$10 billion in the next five to seven years in India. Pichai’s words must have sounded like honey and sugar to an economically battered Indian government. Pichai has said that the money Google will invest will be done through a mix of investments in large companies, startups, partnerships and infrastructure investments. The spheres mentioned for investment seem quite broad based and non-specific. While national media has speculated Google’s first big investment will be in Jio Platforms of Reliance Industries, the negotiations are not yet completed. However, like morning shows the day, the over enthusiastic response to Google by the government of India shows there is more, much more, to what meets the ordinary citizen’s eye.
Take for example, the government of India’s response to Jeff Bezos, founder CEO of Amazon. Bezos had physically visited India in January 2020 and come with an initial offer of investing US$1 billion, which he wanted to put mainly in small and medium industries. The business model of Amazon is known to all globally. It depends on physical employees since its mainstay is E-commerce based retail. Therefore, it was believable when Bezos had said that he would create over 1 million jobs in India. Unlike Amazon, the investment promise of Google would mostly be in the sphere of data, which would not percolate to the ground level as jobs for large number of people. Surprisingly, Bezos was snubbed and not given appointment by either PM Narendra Modi or any senior member of the government. On the other hand, Union Minister Piyush Goyal had publicly stated that Amazon would not be doing any great favour by investing in India. Had Amazon’s investment been welcome, it is possible that the money and the employment opportunities would have started opening up now in the dark Covid era. Yet, it is not difficult to understand why the BJP government was unwilling to entertain Jeff Bezos.
In the meantime, Facebook Inc has invested more than US$5 billion in Reliance Jio and cornered a little less than 10 percent stake in that company. There is no doubt that, in today’s India scenario, Reliance Industries is the best bet for large investors whose focus lies on data collection. With a successful spread of Jio, RIL is the most powerful operator in this field. However, Amazon would have created problems by disrupting the retail sector of India in which big interests are at play. Unlike the West and especially the US, E-Commerce related retail has blossomed very late in India. Indigenous industrialists were preoccupied with large industries such as petroleum, steel and fibre. The sudden waking up of Indian business to large scale physical and E-Commerce retail was bound to get a massive jolt with the entry of Amazon. This jolt would have had two aspects. For small and medium players, the Amazon umbrella would have injected life back into them, which would have, in turn, created huge employment opportunities. Apart from this, customers would have got access to a wider range of products with competitive pricing.
The second aspect would, of course, be considered negative because large Indian giants entering retail would have been stressed out. To protect these giants, the government, understandably, snubbed Bezos. On retrospect, had Amazon started supplying more products manufactured in India within India, these Covid times would have become a boon not only for that company but for India as well. It has been internationally acknowledged that Amazon is probably one of the few corporates that grew in volume during these lockdown months. It would also have been easier to replace Chinese products in the Indian market had Amazon been encouraged here since it has access to alternative global manufacturers. Instead of banning TikTok and such superficial data collecting apps, the government of India has officially welcomed the father of all Data Collectors to gain a chokehold on the Indian public.