Industry and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal found himself in the midst of a Twitter storm after a newspaper reported his statements against the Indian industry’s business practices. Goyal, while addressing a CII conference Thursday, spoke out against the Tata Group unprovoked and said, “Me, Myself, My Company — we all need to go beyond this approach.”
The video of the annual (virtual) meet was earlier uploaded on YouTube, but it was pulled down after the powers that be sniffed the brewing controversy. An edited version of the video was again uploaded on the social media site but was blocked by Friday evening.
Calling out Tata Sons’ president for infrastructure, defence and aerospace, Banmali Agrawala, Goyal expressed deep anguish that Tata Sons had opposed rules to help consumers framed by his Ministry. “Me, Myself, My company — We all need to go beyond this approach,” said Goyal, who also holds charge of the Ministries of Textiles and Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.
“Kya aapke jaisi company, ek do aapne shaayad koi videshi company kharid li… Uska importance zyaada ho gaya, deshhit kam ho gaya? (A company like yours, maybe you bought one or two foreign companies, now their importance is greater than national interest?” Goyal said, adding that he had conveyed the same message to “Chandra” (Tata group chairman N Chandrasekharan).
The Tata group declined to comment on the Minister’s remarks. Queries to the CII did not elicit a response at the time of going to press.
While government officials conveying their priorities to business leaders isn’t unusual, this week’s episode is perhaps unprecedented. Goyal questioned some of the industry representatives who attended the meet about their business practices with insinuations they were not acting in the national interest.
Some big names in the industry are donors to journalistic endeavours, the leitmotif of which is a campaign against the majority community of the country. Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives Pvt Ltd, Pirojsha Godrej Foundation, Cyrus Guzder, Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Rohinton and Anu Aga Family Discretionary No.2 Trust, RDA Holdings Pvt Ltd, the Lal Family Foundation, Sri Nataraja Trust, Manipal Education and Medical Group India Pvt Ltd, Tejaskiran Pharmachem India Pvt Ltd, Viditi Investment Pvt Ltd, Unimed Technologies Ltd, Quality Investment Pvt Ltd and Piramal Enterprises Ltd donate to an association called Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation (IPSMF). The IPSMF, in turn, funds The Wire, ThePrint, The News Minute, etc.
“Hum nationalistic spirit ki baat karte hain, to kai log humein media mein dakiyanoosi bolte hain, backward bulaate hain. Japan, Korea, mein koi backward nahi bulaata (When we talk of the nationalistic spirit, many in the media call us orthodox and backward. Nobody in Japan, Korea calls this backward),” he said.
The comments of Goyal follow Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance that the industry will get complete support when they invest in the country.
The industry and commerce minister’s remarks started a Twitter storm, with former Union Minister of State for Communications & Information Technology and Shipping Milind Deora saying, “(The) world over, governments are working with industry, entrepreneurs, and traders to help them get back on their feet. GoI’s ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ prefers berating them and bullying them toward unprofitability and decline.”
The minister’s remarks on Tata Sons came with a hint that Indian firms structure FDI transactions in a way that violated the spirit of the rules. “I tell you all to rise above fanciful schemes…. the ways you are shown to structure transactions, add this caveat and put this structure. This is how the law can be broken, do this partnership that will be compliant with FDI rules… Lord knows where the spirit of the rules is, but somehow you squeeze it into the ambit of the rules,” the minister said.
“At least you should resist the greed of these foreigners. You are welcome to do good, honest business. But in wrongdoings… when I read names that have entered partnerships with Falana Dhimkana (anyone and everyone),” he said.
Earlier, Goyal had noted that “too much profit in a few hands can lead to a lot of problems for a country” and urged industrialists to not “let the greed of some deprive the need of many”.
At one point, he expressed disappointment that the Indian industry was not giving early-stage funding for start-ups despite his having “talked to Uday (Kotak), Pawan (Goenka), Tatas, Ambanis, Bajajs, and the Birlas” to pitch in. “Even if a few don’t make money, you can sacrifice this much for the country,” he remarked.
Saying that the responsibility of development must be shared by the industry, he talked of undeveloped tribal areas near Mumbai. He said, “There is a limit to how much the country can tolerate such inequality. There was total resistance when we were trying to get land in Palghar for the high-speed rail corridor. Why? They asked: What have you done for us? You are taking our land and getting roads, infrastructure, railways — but there’s no improvement in our life. This could be a cause of worry if people run out of patience sometimes.”
“Synergy can’t just be our policy should come early and we should get incentives. It is a joint and severed responsibility, not the responsibility of government alone,” Goyal said.
However, in the meeting, Goyal did assure the industry that the government would protect its interests in free trade agreements (FTA) and that the pacts would be finalised after conducting detailed discussions with concerned stakeholders. But he further exhorted domestic producers to become competitive rather than seeking protection through these agreements.
Goyal did not spare the opposition parties either. He alleged the opposition parties have converted the “temple of democracy” into a platform for hooliganism. Blaming them for playing “petty politics”, he said it is a “big blot of shame” for people who made the monsoon session a washout and did not allow the house business to run.
Ironically, while Goyal seems to be at loggerheads with a communist newspaper here, the economic ideology of competition limited to domestic players in the market, which he furthers, comes from a communist trade unionist, Dattopant Thengadi, who went on to establish Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh for the RSS.
Goyal played an instrumental role in limiting private e-commerce companies’ room for manoeuvre recently, driven by complaints from the local traders that they were not able to compete with the MNCs.
Video containing comments of Goyal pulled down
Goyal contented Tata Sons has opposed the rules to help consumers framed by his ministry. The comments that apparently came straight from his heart has baffled the India Inc CEOs, The Hindu said.
The communist newspaper has claimed it has in its possession a recording of Goyal’s tirade. The comments caught public attention and stoked a debate on social media after The Hindu reported today that the government had asked the CII to block videos containing the comments of Goyal.
Two links to those videos on Goyal’s speech shared with journalists are now marked private and blocked. The CII and Goyal’s office did not respond to a request for comment.