NEW DELHI :
Amazon is known for delivering the goods, the tech guru who founded the e-commerce firm was not to be found wanting on Wednesday.
Jeff Bezos, a lean 56-year-old, kicked off his three-day visit to India by delivering the right optics. The day started with a visit to Rajghat, where he was seen in a white kurta and fitted pyjamas and rust-coloured Nehru jacket paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, the choice of ethnic Indian attire setting the tone of his India tour.
“That was a straight response to the opposition his company is facing in India,” said a top executive of a public relations (PR) agency. Amazon India has been in the eye of a storm, with traders complaining vehemently to the government about the company’s steep discounts and alleged non-compliance with FDI regulations in e-commerce.”
Despite being under fire, Bezos played the swadeshi tune as he participated in Smbhav, a mega event organized by Amazon India to coincide with his visit. Ostensibly, the purpose of the event was to bring together small and medium businesses that work with online retailers as sellers, distributors and logistics partners. It was attended by industry experts and policymakers. However, some sellers felt that it was more of a platform for Bezos to show his commitment to India.
Once again the optics: Now Bezos appeared in a blue Nehru jacket with a traditional print, which he said had been sourced from a seller on Amazon. He folded his hands in a “Namaste” and lit the ceremonial lamp.
Not just that. In a chat with Amazon India’s country manager, Amit Agarwal, he pressed all the right buttons. The auditorium at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium broke into an applause when he said the 21st century belongs to India.
“The dynamism, the energy…the growth. This country has something special and it’s a democracy,” Bezos said. For good measure, he also announced a $1 billion investment for digitizing small and medium businesses in India.
On the face of it, said an analyst, this was a move to head off the criticism Amazon India has been facing. On Monday, India’s antitrust regulator launched a probe into Amazon.com and Walmart-owned Flipkart for alleged competition law violations. “The moment you put in a billion dollars, the policy watchdogs start to think about you differently. Although this investment may have been well thought out, it is also good optics,” he said, declining to be named.
Bezos said Amazon will use its global footprint to export Make in India goods. However, the crux of his conversation was growing the small and medium businesses through his platform.
On Wednesday, another video of Bezos flying kites with Indian kids surfaced. However, there have been no photo-ops yet with government officials. “Traders are a huge vote bank for the government. With the Delhi election scheduled for 8 February, nobody would antagonize them,” said the PR executive cited earlier.
Bezos, clearly, is the ultimate showman. With an eye on the entertainment unit of his business, Amazon Prime Video, he will mingle with Bollywood celebrities in Mumbai on Thursday. In a closed-door event, he will engage in a fireside chat with Shah Rukh Khan and Zoya Akhtar. Music composer A.R. Rehman will perform at the event.
However, the traders’ organizations protesting against Amazon are not buying into his swadeshi pitch or his India promise. They continued to hold protests under the leadership of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) in different cities. The $1 billion investment in India, CAIT’s national general secretary Praveen Khandelwal said, was promotional finance for Amazon India to crush retail trade.
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