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Height of crony capitalism: Is Modi the brand ambassador of Reliance JIO?

At a time when PSU companies like BSNL and MTNL are in the ICU, PM Narendra Modi is found modeling for the ads of Reliance Jio, a competing private company. Is Modi the official brand Ambassador of Reliance Jio, in which case it will be unethical as the head of the government to influence free market dynamics, or did Mukesh Ambani's company misuse the Indian prime minister's image ?

Prime minister Narendra Modi it seems did not fully fathom the term model PM. He has just completed his first modeling assignment posing for the advertisement of a private firm. In the process, PM Modi is getting trolled on social media after his photo appeared in a full page jacket advertisement of Reliance Jio, published in prominent newspapers like Times Of India and The Hindustan Times and later he was seen on TV commercials promoting the 4G service as well.

Narendra Modi has just taken his corporate-friendly tag to another level. Whether the PM is the brand ambassador of Reliance Jio or did the company misuse his image in the ad is still to be ascertained. But if Modi did agree to feature in the ad then he did it at the cost of BSNL and MTNL which are PSU companies and struggling to stay relevant. The advertisement of Reliance Jio, the latest venture of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance, titled as, “Jio: Digital Life” contained the picture of our PM with a caption ““Dedicated to India and 1.2 billion Indians” above him.

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The advertisement invited wide criticism on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Many of them perceived the advertisement as an example to show the extent of crony capitalism prevailing in our country.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked in a tweet, whether we need more proof to believe that Modi is in Mukesh Ambani’s pocket.

He also warned Modi that he will be taught a lesson by the labourers of the country in the 2019’s general elections in another tweet.

 

Many of the tweets accused that it is a violation of the Emblems and Names (Prevention Of Improper Use) Act 1950 to use the picture of the PM for marketing purposes.

“Section 9 (of Emblems and Names Act) empowers the Central Government to make rules to carry out the purposes of the Act. Originally the Schedule attached to the Act had only three items, namely,- (1) The name, emblem or official seal of the United Nations Organization; (2) The name, emblem or official seal of the World Health Organization; and (3) The Indian National Flag.

But by various notifications of the Central Government in the course of several years, the Schedule now contains 17 items of which we are now concerned only with item No. 9A which as amended by the impugned Notification dated March 16, 1968, stands as under 9A. “The name or pictorial representation of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj or Mahatma Gandhi or the Prime Minister of India (except the pictorial use thereof on calendars where only the name of the manufacturers and printers of the calendars are given and the calendars are not used for advertising goods).”

The Supreme court of India made this statement in the Judgement of M/S. Sable Waghire & Co. & Others vs Union Of India & Others case in 1975.

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Baba Ram Dev, another close ally of Modi and BJP had courted a similar controversy through an advertisement of his consumer goods company named Patanjali Ayurvedic, in April. Patanjali’s advertisement said: “Use our products like crores of Deshbhakt (Patriotic) Indians and contribute in the service and prosperity of the country.”

The advertisement also had violated the Emblems and Names Act by including the statement –  “Using our products will help in fulfilling the dreams of great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and Ram Prasad Bismil who wanted citizens to use swadeshi (Country made) products.”-  in it.

This advertisement also invited ample criticism and legal challenges as Mohammed Khalid Jilani, a Bareilly-based advocate  who works with consumer affairs filed a complaint against the Patanjali group with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).

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Reliance’s advertisement got published a day after Mukesh Ambani officially launched his new venture-Reliance Jio in Mumbai. Ambani dedicated his new telecom product to the PM’s Digital India in his speech. The newspaper advertisement with Modi’s picture also had a paragraph which pays homage to Modi and his visions.

“In the journey of time, there come a few life changing moments. Our honourable Prime Minister’s inspiring vision of a Digital India is one such movement. Jio is dedicated to realising our Prime Minister’s Digital India vision for 1.2 billion Indians. Jio Digital Life will give the power of data to each Indian, to fulfil every dream and collectively take India to the global digital leadership,” reads the advertisement.

Indian National Congress spokesperson Dr Ajay Kumar observed that the scenario in which business houses using political leaders for their promotion is a huge danger to democracy.

CPI(M) Polit bureau member Brinda Karat said that it was shocking as it was an unprecedented practice in which the PM of the country appeared in the promotional advertisement for a corporate firm. If it was done without the permission from the PMO, the PMO should take action.

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“If it was done without the permission from the PMO, the PMO should take legal action against Reliance. Otherwise, we would be compelled to believe that it was with the knowledge of Mr Modi. It is shameful,” said Karat.

“Ambani&Modi:A mutual admiration society. As RIL runs full pg ads with the PM’s face,forget recovery of 11kCr of stolen gas,” tweeted Prashant Bhushan, senior Supreme court lawyer.

Interestingly, Network 18, a popular news channel owned by Reliance industries is about to broadcast an exclusive interview with the PM on Friday night .

 

Under the Modi government BSNL entered into intra-circle arrangements with Reliance Jio, and in the near future it could be made to share spectrum with Mukesh Ambani’s company. BSNL has a strong fibre optic network. Analysts at Deutsche Bank say that the launch of Reliance Jio is definitely going to have the most affect on weaker players such as BSNL and MTNL.

In a situation where BSNL has been losing revenue market share to private players like Airtel Bharti, Idea and Vodafone, it’s absurd to see the PM of India promoting Mukesh Ambani’s 4G project instead of trying to give BSNL and MTNL teeth needed to compete. Over the last eight quarters, BSNL’s revenue market share has been stuck in the 5 per cent mark and it market share has reduced from 8.5 per cent in FY11 to 5.3 per cent in FY16. With Reliance Jio being promoted so aggressively by one of the richest people on the planet, Mukesh Ambani, the PSUs are going to bleed further.

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