Who Is Mukesh Ambani and Why Has He Become the Target of Farmers' Protests?

Published January 10th, 2021 - 01:15 GMT
Who Is Mukesh Ambani and Why Has He Become the Target of Farmers' Protests?
Mukesh Ambani has led his father's Reliance Group to sky rocketing success, becoming Asia's richest man. (Al Bawaba)

Last November, thousands of Indian farmers have been on a non-stop protest, pushing back against three new agriculture laws they say "will further deepen the difficulties their industry is facing". However, one name has been frequently referred to by protestors as the mastermind behind the new laws, that is of Asia's once richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

Even though Ambani has lately slipped into the 13th rank of the world's wealthiest businessmen, he remains one of Asia's and India's most influential business figures. The Indian tycoon's wealth is estimated at $74.3 billion, according to Bloomberg's Billionaires Index

What is Reliance?

Managing his father's Reliance, which was founded in 1973 in Mumbai, Ambani had been able to transform the company into India's largest private business company in the country, conquering the energy, telecommunications, retail, petrochemicals sectors, and many others.

Additionally, Reliance Group has been achieving success through its investments in the Middle East, most notably in the UAE, where its headquartered are located, with business activities focused on producing gasoline, kerosene, distillate fuel oils, residual fuel oils, and lubricants.

In 2010, Reliance was able to set up the largest petroleum refinery plant in the city of Jamnagar. 

India's Farmers

However, increasing voices in India have been pointing out what they think are dangerous practices by Ambani, his family members, and other businessmen, in ruining the agriculture industry in the country.

Such voices have been louder than ever over the last two months, as thousands of Indian farmers led by farmers unions continue to protest across the country and around New Delhi, calling on the government to withdraw three new farming laws, that they say have been in favor of the country's wealthiest, accusing businessmen of "crushing" the country's poor community of farmers.

The country's current agriculture system dates back to the 1960s Green Revolution, which refers to the newly-independent government's focus on achieving food security, in response to a series of famines that struck the country post-independence, 

Nonetheless, the excess focus on using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation practices have resulted in damaging large areas of arable land, in addition to the unneeded surplus of food, ones that slashed prices in the markets over the years, troubling 44% of the Indian population which makes up the farmers' community. Since then, the Indian government has crafted the Mandi pricing system to keep prices under control.

Farmers protest, India farmers protest, Punjab farmers protest, Indian Express

Source: Indian Express

In the 1960s, agriculture accounted for 50% of India's economy, but over the last several years, its significance has shrunk to less than 20%

According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, about 52% of farmers' households were in debt by 2019.

Yet, Ambani has been particularly under fire from protestors, as they suggest he and other businessmen have inspired the latest farming laws that protestors think will be unfair to their industry.

Protestors specifically refer to 2017 statements made by the country's wealthiest man to invest in the agricultural sector. According to Quartz India, Ambani's "Jio Platforms is banking on a partnership with Facebook to expand into the agritech domain with the JioKrishi app, which will facilitate a farm-to-fork supply chain. The company is said to have sourced 77% of its fruit directly from farmers."

Since the news laws will allow businesses to invest in the farm sector with minimum control, farmers strongly believe that Ambani's business will crush their only sources of livelihood, making their financial crisis even worse.

Ambani's Wealth Growth

Since assuming power in 2014, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of lobbying with the country's businessmen who have reportedly been accompanying him on official trips to foreign countries so they can close their own business dealings, expanding their companies, and growing their own fortunes, including Mukesh Ambani and his brother.

In addition to the economic crisis resulting from lockdowns following the coronavirus outbreak, which has deeply troubled the Indian economy, Indians have been comparing the major economic setback with the growth of wealth businessmen as Mukesh Ambani has accomplished throughout 2020.

According to World Bank projections, the Indian economy is set to contract by more than 9% during 2020-2021. Yet, Ambani's wealth increased by $22 billion.

Do you think that farmers are right to worry about their sector from the threat of private businesses? What role should the Indian government take next to avoid a worsening crisis?

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