‘Reliance’ Between Modi And The Ambanis: What It All Means

Yes, it is a known fact that Modi, the current Prime Minister of India, is a good friend and well-wisher of many business houses – prominent among them being Reliance and the Adanis. There is nothing wrong with the act, given that industrial development and economic growth will give dividends not just to investors, but to the common man as well, indirectly, if one goes by the trickle-down theory.

But with each passing day, the people of the country are being forced to believe that there lies more than we have heard and seen so far, in their ‘made-for-each-other’ relationship.

The much awaited new-year-eve address to the nation by the Prime Minister evoked negative responses even among his biggest fans. The admiration that these fans had was not merely because of political inclinations, but more because of his ‘liberal, pro-development’ economic policies. This admiration turned into negative responses because contrary to what they were expecting, there was no mention of any of the economic figures or statistics reflecting on the benefits of the much hyped demonetisation exercise that he undertook.

However, there were some announcements in his speech on the evening of December 31, 2016. One notable mention was that of the government extending its credit guarantees for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) from ₹1 crore to ₹2 crore. There was one more thing that he added subtly – from now on, loans given by Non Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) to MSMEs would also be covered by this scheme.

So what? It is a good step, isn’t it?  But it does not seem so innocent an announcement as it’s made out to be.

Before going to that, let’s quickly rewind back to another major decision taken by the Modi government a few months back, amidst the country-wide chaos and protests. While protests and movements highlighting atrocities against Dalits, government intrusions into the academic sphere and the communal and hatred-inducing speeches and public addresses by BJP leaders were rocking the country, the government undertook the major Rafale deal.

The fact that it was quite a ‘fatal deal’, as far as the cost to the exchequer is considered, has already been discussed a lot. However, all these discussions got lost amidst the high volume social media campaigns on nationalism and patriotism by the BJP and its followers in the wake of cross-border intrusions by Pakistan forces. But another aspect of the deal was the great ‘Make in India’ element, that was brought in along with the strange decision to entrust Reliance Defence to undertake the deal as a joint venture with the French aerospace giant, Dassault Aviation. It is to be remembered that it was only very recently, as late as October 2016, that the joint venture was even formed and announced. This enterprise was undertaken when Reliance Defence was under a debt of ₹6,800 crore, against its market capitalisation of ₹4,895 crore, and an interest liability of ₹347 crore a year, as of May 2016. Even then, they got the 7.87 billion euro contract for 36 Rafale jets. A friend in need is a friend indeed, isn’t it?

Modi and Anil Ambani

Let’s come back to the ‘MSME guarantee’ announcement by Modi, which was specifically meant to extend the guarantee to those loans granted by NBFCs. It was in August 2013, when Anil Ambani, while addressing the shareholders of Reliance Capital, expressed his hope of getting a banking licence for ‘Reliance Bank’, with the wish that it would help lower Reliance Capital’s debt to one-fourth of its value back then (reducing the consolidated debt from ₹20,000 crore to ₹5,000 crore) and would be listed as a separate entity with an IPO after three years. But his dreams could not take off because in August 2016, just a month before Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan stepped down, the RBI rejected its application to start new bank. And on September 4, 2016, we saw Urjit Patel becoming the new RBI Governor – who was, by the by, a former President (Business Development) of Reliance Industries from 1997 to 2006. If ‘conflict of interest’ remains a term reserved just for academic discussions, we will soon find changes in RBI norms – and the Reliance Bank may become a reality sooner or later.

Now, how is this related to the new announcement? Even though Reliance Bank did not materialise, and may have to wait a few more years before the RBI norms change, Reliance Capital still continues to function as an NBFC, having been registered as a Non Banking Financial Company, for many years. Therefore, with the new government-guarantee in place, Reliance Capital NBFC will be the largest beneficiary, with a large market for loan demands from MSMEs being available now.

Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise segments offer higher yields, allowing NBFCs to earn superior profit margins, which they can leverage to grow even faster. It should be mentioned that according to the House of Debt report, Reliance Group’s gross debt had increased 4.8 times between the Financial Year (FY) 2006-07 and FY 2014-15, with the debt reaching ₹1.25 trillion – making it the group with the highest outstanding debt in India. When the Prime Minister reiterated in his new-year-eve speech- “Banks should give loans, we take guarantee“, it was not just a push from the supply side (of loans), but indeed a greater pull from the demand side as well – generating more business, revenue and profit for NBFCs like Reliance Capital.

After all, “You do not require an invitation to make profits“, as Dhirubani Ambani had once said. However, in all these games, the biggest loser will be the government-owned banks, and it is just a matter of time before NBFCs become larger than most state-owned banks. With the Reliance-SBI payment bank already in place, which is bound to bring in great prospects for the group, along with an unprecedented push for cash-less economy by the government – it is indeed ‘acche din‘ for the Ambani brothers, if not for their sisters as well!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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