Ambani’s and Kotak’s endorsements are a flash in the pan. One or two swallows do not make a summer’s day.
Two prominent businessmen, Mukesh Ambani and Uday Kotak, have formally endorsed Milind Deora, Congress candidate for the Mumbai South constituency in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.
Before we read too much into such formal endorsements, we need to be clear about one thing: this is not a coming of age for Indian businessmen where they can speak their minds openly on politics. In fact, Mint newspaper quotes a source close to Ambani that this is a personal endorsement, not an official endorsement of the candidate or his party. Ambani-Deora bonhomie dates back to their fathers, Dhirubhai Ambani and Murli Deora.
Moreover, the man receiving their endorsement seems a bit embarrassed – at least in public. It is not every day that you get the backing of India’s richest man, but Deora downplayed it, saying only Mukesh Ambani can explain his endorsement, adding: “I'm equally proud that I'm being endorsed by paanwalas, by small traders…”.
Such endorsements, even if formal, actually make no difference to candidates or their electoral fortunes, for candidate spending limits are too low for business contributions to make a difference in terms of resources.
And in India’s anti-business political environment, where Rahul Gandhi finds it politically rewarding to repeatedly target some businessmen – Anil Ambani and Gautam Adani – in public meetings, it is obvious that both politicians and businessmen will prefer to keep their linkages covert.
In the Radia tapes, Mukesh Ambani is quoted as having told Ranjan Bhattacharya, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s foster son-in-law in a conversation, that the Congress party under Sonia Gandhi was “apni dukaan” (Congress is our shop).
On other formal occasions, Mukesh Ambani is full of praise for Narendra Modi (hear this) for his “visionary leadership”.
As for Uday Kotak, he is the man the Modi government chose to steady the floundering Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS). So, his endorsement of Deora too seems an exception to the rule, not a new move towards open support by businessmen for political parties or their high-profile candidates.
It will take a while, and a political environment of tolerance to openness, before businessmen can openly voice their political ideas or preferences. Ambani’s and Kotak’s endorsements are a flash in the pan. One or two swallows do not make a summer’s day.