Why I Am Logging Out of All Reliance Businesses – An Open Letter to Mukesh Ambani, CMD, Reliance Industries
Binu S Thomas 25 November 2020
Dear Mukeshbhai,
 
Thirty-five years ago, back in 1985 as a 23-year-old reporter freelancing for an international weekly news magazine, I had the privilege of sitting down with your late father Dhirubhai Ambani for a one-on-one interview. Dressed in immaculate white safari suit and seated on a pristine white sofa in his office in Maker Chambers IV, at Nariman Point in Mumbai, the business legend held forth on a number of issues. Both you and your brother Anil, who handled media relations then and facilitated the powwow, were present in the room, listening intently as your dad spoke.
 
The high point of the interview came when I asked Dhirubhai why Reliance, despite whopping profits, was not paying a single rupee as corporate income-tax year-after-year. That query irked him and he, quite literally, pulled his recent stroke-impaired frame to the edge of the sofa to drive home the point that Reliance was the highest tax payer in the country. More customs, excise, sales tax, octroi, he declared, than any other private company. As he saw it, the income-tax Reliance was not paying on account of reinvesting its profits to expand the business was both lawful and did not detract from its massive contribution to the national exchequer.
 
I have no doubt that, over the decades, Reliance has contributed lakhs of crores to the nation’s finances. Probably more than any other private company in India’s history. And that is a commendable achievement, one that I applaud. 
 
But that was not enough to stop me from recently porting out of my Jio mobile connection. It will also not be enough, sadly, to make me rescind my decision to avoid consuming other products or services from Reliance entities, going forward. I will no longer be buying an electrical appliance from Reliance Digital, or grocery items from Reliance Retail or Jiomart or fuelling up at a Reliance Petroleum outlet. I will try my damn best to avoid tuning into any of 71 television channels Reliance controls through Network 18 and accounting, as you claimed in your 2019 Reliance AGM statement, for 800 million viewers or some 95% of the television viewing audience in the country. My Jio Wi-Fi connection, which expires next month, will not be renewed. You see I am simply logging out of all Reliance businesses.
 
Any right-thinking citizen, I believe, has to measure a large corporate not just by the usual yardsticks of the value-for-money it gives customers, the employment it provides to lakhs of people, the contribution to the national purse or the social responsibilities it discharges to the community at large. Large businesses, such as Reliance, have a special duty to ensure their market practices are fair and promote long-term consumer and, more importantly, national well-being. 
 
In recent years, I have been distressed to note the competition-killing 'winner-at-all-costs' approach Reliance has been pursuing. When Jio launched, it announced free voice calls for life making it impossible for the competition, including your brother’s Reliance Communications, which had to incur exorbitant spectrum charges in the early years of the telecom revolution, to survive.  
 
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) dismissed Bharti Airtel’s 2017 complaint against Jio saying free calls were fine since Jio did not have a dominant position in the industry (conveniently forgetting the predatory pricing was designed to precisely gain dominance which it since has). Soon after CCI initiated an investigation into Airtel and other telcos for allegedly trying to block Jio’s entry!
 
Banks that had lent to your competitor telcos were forced to incur massive losses on their loans. This since competitors resorting to predatory pricing was not anticipated by either lenders or borrowers who, rightly, expected the CCI to step in if such an eventuality were to arise. Since most of the affected banks were nationalised ones, the hit ultimately has to be borne by the taxpayer.
 
Meanwhile, you got to use a collapsed Reliance Communications’ spectrum for cheap. Then in October 2019, after much of the competition, including international heavyweight Vodafone, had been pretty much decimated, Reliance Jio announced it would now start charging consumers for voice calls. So much for life-time promises!
 
More recently, the passage of three controversial farm bills in parliament without discussion or debate have been conveniently timed to aid Reliance’s massive push into retail. The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce Bill helps large private players like Reliance bypass the existing APMC structure and deal directly with farmers. 
 
Not a bad idea, theoretically speaking, for farmers except that, in practice mega players like Reliance will effectively set the price they get and, over time, narrow their options for getting better prices elsewhere. 
 
Two other bills, one dealing with promotion of contract farming and another removing stocking limits on many essential items of daily use like cereals, pulses, oils and onions, will also benefit large players like Reliance more than anyone else.
 
The entry of Reliance into any business over the years has been almost always accompanied by a sharp reduction in the competition in that business, often facilitated by exceptionally quick and uncannily favourable policy changes.
 
Back in your father’s heyday, the story, whether apocryphal or not, was of a seat being permanently booked for Reliance in business class of the Indian Airlines Airbus A300s that used to fly between Delhi and Mumbai, then Bombay. There was only one domestic airline at that time and only limited number of flights unlike today. A call from a friendly Indian Airlines station manager signalling which minister was booked to fly often resulted in the political worthy finding, abracadabra, a senior Reliance executive seated next to him for the nearly 90 minutes flight. No wrong committed even if true. It is well known that innovative policy influencing has long been practised at Reliance.
 
The recent decision of a Singapore arbitrator to temporarily stay, based on a petition filed by Amazon, the mega deal of Reliance acquiring India’s largest retail group Future Retail, has mysteriously led to a series of articles against foreign ecommerce players and the big daddy of them all, Amazon, in Reliance-controlled media outlets. “How foreign ecommerce giants pose a threat to Aatmanirbhar Bharat”, “Amazon deliberately mischaracterised Future Retail suit to confuse court: Harish Salve” and “Amazon-Future deal: Tail wagging dog” are some recent headlines in Reliance-controlled and Network 18-owned media property moneycontrol.com, which tell their own story. 
 
And now, in the midst of the legal battle with Amazon, has come the news that CCI had in quick time approved the Rs24,713 crore Reliance-Future Retail deal.  This overriding an objection filed by the American e-commerce giant to the CCI giving its approval. No concerns apparently of how this super concentration of business power in organised retail will affect the long-term interests of the Indian consumer. That said, I would welcome any step the CCI may take against the growing concentration of retail power by Amazon too. 
 
Mukeshbhai, I am sure, my one-man decision to avoid all Reliance products and services, in protest at the growing monopolistic nature of your business practices, will not give you any sleepless nights. 
 
But I do hope and pray that you will, as a smart business tycoon, realise—perhaps in your quietest moments—that the long-term interests of your businesses are tied not just to how big and powerful they become but the price the people  of this still largely poor and developing country have to pay for your vaulting business ambitions.
 
With Kind Regards
 
Binu S Thomas
 
NOTE: Moneylife sent an email to officials of RIL for their views/comment on the open letter. However, till publishing this, we have not heard from them. We will incorporate RIL’s response as and when we receive it.

Also after finding almost all new commets mainly as trolls we have closed comments on this article.
 
(The author is a former Indochina Correspondent and Kuala Lumpur Bureau Chief of Time Inc’s erstwhile Asiaweek magazine.) 
raghusgroups
10 months ago
Binu,

Thank you for writing this. Welcome to the club. In my 42 years of existence, my family has never used a product or stepped into a Reliance shop till now. This is my personal boycott that I have been following for a long time. I hope to continue until I am forced to use a Reliance product where they are the only service provider. I dread to see that day.

Regards,
Raghu
qwanraj
10 months ago
Article is reeking of propaganda. While I agree with you and am going to port out my jio.
I think this is not an honest article when Binu included the Amazon case. We all knew a year before that RIL was going to buy Future retail. Till then Amazon just kept its mouth shut. The petition was filed. After the deal.
So that questions the intention of Amazon.
This all seems to be a leftist attack on anything"Indians" the name Binu Thomas is such a give away .
Amazon is the left libtards darlings.
Whats funny though reliance is actually leftist they came up as you said schmoozing politicians of the left.
The problem is the left believe their own lies.
You cant do shit to RIL.
You are that "independent" thinking leftist who strayed from the script/narrative. Don't worry your puppet masters will correct you soon
kartikeyamishra2
10 months ago
Does not even provide timely annual hikes to their employees.
s5rwav
10 months ago
CR EN 219 is Criminal Case against Mr KV Kamath and Mrs Chanda Headed ICICI Bank Limited Filed by Investor Babubhai Vaghela in Ahmedabad Court.
s5rwav
10 months ago
Mr KV Kamath and Mrs Chanda Kochhar of ICICI Bank Limited Filed 2 Court Cases against the Whistle Blower Babubhai Vaghela in 2013 and 2014. #RCS4452013 and #RCS4942014 in Vadodara Court. Investor Babubhai Vaghela was Illegally Stopped from Attending the ICICI Bank Limited AGM of 2013. Cases were Filed 2 Debar the Investor Babubhai Vaghela from Attending the ICICI Bank Limited AGMs. First Case was Unconditionally Withdrawn in 2017. Second Case is still going on with No Progress. Why Enforcement Director and CBI Not Arrest the Finance Fraudsters, Facing FIRs by ED and CBI, who Brazenly Looted Thousands of Crores of Public Money is a Mystery. https://youtu.be/w6KPnvto5Oc
s5rwav
10 months ago
Mr KV Kamath and Mrs Chanda Kochhar of ICICI Bank Limited Filed 2 Court Cases against the Whistle Blower Babubhai Vaghela in 2013 and 2014. #RCS4452013 and #RCS4942014 in Vadodara Court. Investor Babubhai Vaghela was Illegally Stopped from Attending the ICICI Bank Limited AGM of 2013. Cases were Filed 2 Debar the Investor Babubhai Vaghela from Attending the ICICI Bank Limited AGMs. First Case was Unconditionally Withdrawn in 2017. Second Case is still going on with No Progress. Why Enforcement Director and CBI Not Arrest the Finance Fraudsters who Brazenly Looted Thousands of Crores of Public Money is a Mystery. https://youtu.be/48ZFfDVor2w
John1962
10 months ago
Binu, Grapes are getting sour, is it? You enjoyed reliance products for so many years by paying or even freebies. Perhaps Your not aware that your still enjoying many reliance products. Check it out daily. Okay coming to jio Telco, they came into the market and gave us the best offer and put break/brakes on other Telco that were fleecing us as and when they wanted. Jio came as a saviour for us. Im aware one fine day they will control the nation and we will be forced to pay what they ask for. But for now we are enjoying the price and service. If Reliance goes into the skin of its citizens, then reliance will also collapse. With a little network problems sometimes i am happy with jio. Very soon jio mart is gonna be a worth it market. Many will flourish, employment will also pick up. So Binu i dont feel sad that you are giving up on reliance. Goodluck.
kavindra89
10 months ago
I had to use a USA VPN connection to read this article. It is being blocked or over-flooded.
ckvanitha
10 months ago
Hi Mr.Binu,hats off to you for your braveness!This article makes so much of sense.Reliance has tried killing competition in every sector through shortcuts and still being encouraged by some forces.Initially they post a good deal and then the customer gets trapped .This has happened even in Insurance.Truly unreliable.There has to be ethics in business,which is being forgotten by some business houses.Learning is" Winning adopting shortcuts and back door entries have never been accepted a real victory". Again drama played by brothers and hurting investors truly is another unforgettable episode.But is Reliance the sole company that plays this foul game?
Nish
10 months ago
I am invested in RIIL(Reliance Industrial group). I never seen any growth plan /sales in last 10 years. Is it legal to keep listing company without any focus ?
ppindia18
10 months ago
Sympathize with some of the arguments, but don't agree with boycott of reliance. The problem is when big companies takes decision they have to look at very big picture. When multinational companies come to India they do this, but reliance is one of the few companies doing it in India. We should encourage more such companies not boycott it.
sankudey
Replied to ppindia18 comment 10 months ago
While I support this view to not boycott Indian Companies, rather support them and I do practise that in my personal life; but I think reliance and other few biggies are much more than just emotion of being national ....

In our locality (Noida) Jio did put the Fiber back-bone several years ago by digging the soil and cutting the roads --- but they never filled those roads to required level causing huge problems to all residents and motor-vehicles.... they do these nuisance at any and every opportunity .... we get less cost Jio but a painful life because of these things ..... they give freebies by eating into our present and future .... this was just a very small thing --but being close to policy making (like now Farmer's law and can see what treatment the farmers are getting at Delhi/Haryana boarder) and influencing the future of the next generation (and hence the nation itself) is far more dangerous ... I would say, I have started thinking differently now ...

Even if everyone is dead in long run, long run do come and do come with new people and generations .... if we do not think of them now, it will be our biggest failure .... similar to the global warming problem coming out of bad factory policies and taking views away from sustainable development .....

Its better late than never .... Thanks to Binu ji for putting such a nice article ....
behalbiotech
Replied to sankudey comment 10 months ago
Whenever a road is dig by a single person or company, the permission comes from road department after paying the charges for digging & repair. Therefore it is duty of road department to repait it, not the person or company. This is the official rule.
s5rwav
Replied to behalbiotech comment 10 months ago
It is the prevailing wrong practice and Not the Rule.
behalbiotech
Replied to s5rwav comment 10 months ago
Then you go to local road office and ask them.
Binu S. Thomas
10 months ago
I thank all those who have read this article carefully and voiced both support and reasoned dissent. The overwhelming number of comments are more a commentary on the importance of the issue being flagged and any merits or demerits of the piece itself is secondary. As for the paid trolls spewing venom without much logic or reason, guys I know you do this for a living. So no hard feelings.
s5rwav
Replied to Binu S. Thomas comment 10 months ago
Do Mukesh Ambani and Nita Ambani and Anil Ambani and Tina Ambani and Akash Ambani and Isha Ambani Feel Shy to Participate in Discussion like this in Public Forum is a Question to them.
suresh.kilaar
10 months ago
I went through the article and various comments. I am really surprised by the decisions of Binu and like minded persons. They have decided to boycott Reliance products and services. But first they should know up to what extent their life is covered by Reliance. The moment one gets up and takes toothbrush most likely raw material is from reliance. One wears his clothes most likely using raw material from reliance. He gets in to a bus, car whose fuel is most likely from Reliance refinery - one in every 1000 vehicles in India are fuelled by Reliance. Similarly if Binu and his friends want to fly out - one in every 100 flights are fuelled by aviation petrol from reliance. Take any product using plastics- most likely raw material is from reliance. Take your pillow or bed to sleep ... mostly raw material is from reliance. Now, will you guys find out by tracking to find what you use does not have reliance originated product and boycott all to ensure you are 100% free from reliance products. Pl do tracking and report back in a week's time.
ras.git
Replied to suresh.kilaar comment 10 months ago
True. People loke binu are against any indian company challenging the multinational foreign companies. They are being paid by Amazon, Vodafone, Unilever to write such articles. Communist like benu thomas will never write against the chinese invasion policies. There ink was almost dry when for last 70 years, multinationals were selling a detergents at Rs. 200/kg against a local nirma selling same at Rs. 20/kg. But now with rise of indian companies like patanjali or reliance giving tough time to MNC's, there pen is oozing ink like sewers drain.
prashantsoni79
10 months ago
Thomas bhai.. Keep ur individual decision to urself.. If u r putting into media.. It is meant for influencing..
All ur logic is so flawed.. Jio has done something which has helped all Indian to get on net.. It is transformation which ril brought in.. & i m greatful for it..
s5rwav
Replied to prashantsoni79 comment 10 months ago
#WeThePeopleOfIndia, including Mr Mukesh Ambani, should be at Liberty to Express Our Views on Public Forum like Moneylife.
kapany
10 months ago
Not a very convincing argument. If this is what you are bothered about then why did you not protest when aircraft seats were utilised for business deals or plastic raw material was monopolised decades ago. It suited you then?
It's business decisions and what's good earlier shouldn't be characterised bad now just because you have fallen out
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