To Understand Jio, You Need to Understand Reliance

(diff.substack.com)

209 points | by simonpure 11 days ago

15 comments

  • reactspa 10 days ago

    This article delivers a very good understanding of what it's like to be an entrepreneur in India. Kudos.

    One of the coolest things I've read about Jio is something I read on a previous post on HN: that the name and logo were designed to be the mirror image of oiL.

    > Later, Reliance profited from other parts of India’s protectionist regime. Their synthetic fiber arbitrage worked like this: to make manufacturers self-sufficient, the Indian government allowed them to import raw materials only in proportion to the goods they exported. Ambani persuaded the government to let him import polyester filament yarn in proportion to the nylon goods he exported. Nylon was available cheaply in India, polyester filament was 600% more expensive when locally sourced in India than its cost when imported. So Ambani set up a closed loop: make nylon clothes from locally-sourced materials; sell them abroad; use the import quota to import polyester filament; sell it at home. And, just to be safe, he took care of the demand side, too: at least according to The Polyester Prince, Ambani sent money abroad to buy his own products at duty-free ports, and then sold them for cheap, gave them away, or even dumped them in the ocean.

    All true except in many cases, the exporters didn't need to actually export anything. If the right bribes were paid (Congress Party's modus operandi), it was all a "receipts game"... you just needed receipts that "proved" that you had sent goods abroad, that money had hit the bank, etc.

    There was a huge fertilizer subsidies scam in India a couple decades ago which was another case of "receipts game". (The scam involved subsidies [given by the government] for using fertilizer [similar to Agricultural Subsidies in the USA]. Turns out that most of the subsidies were going to politicians who weren't using any fertilizer, they were just providing the correct receipts that "proved" that they had bought -- and presumably used -- fertilizer.)

    Finally, I worked at a bank in India for a short while, just after the major devaluation of the currency in the nineties (the Indian Rupee was devalued by over 50% in two phases). Around midnight, the day before the surprise announcement by the Reserve Bank of India (and the Government of India), a bunch of treasury operations staff at the bank got marching orders to go to the office and sell off, as much as they could, the Indian Rupee, and buy foreign currencies. They worked all night. The client made millions from this bank's operations alone. The client? Reliance.

    • puranjay 10 days ago

      It's an open secret in the Indian bureaucratic establishment that Reliance will hire retiring bureaucrats and get them to work their networks to find out what's happening in the government before it actually happens.

      I don't even blame Reliance. These were the cards they were dealt with. They just knew how to play them better than anyone else.

      • gramakri 10 days ago

        Speaking of scams, my favorite is the fodder scam - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fodder_Scam . Large amounts of receipts and paperwork for fodder, sheds, farms, cattles... none of which existed. It was all an epic work of fiction!

        • ra7 10 days ago

          In recent memory, another favorite is the 2G spectrum scam - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2G_spectrum_case. The Telecom minister taking bribes and bending rules to grant licenses to his favorite companies, the Prime Minister unable to control his own minister and letting the scam occur, the propagation of "zero loss" theory. It was very... entertaining to see corruption exposed at the highest level in the government.

          • EHEFctspyh 10 days ago

            From the 2G spectrum scam wiki page you shared

            "....On 21 December 2017, the special court in New Delhi acquitted all accused in the 2G spectrum case including prime accused A Raja and Kanimozhi.[12] This verdict was based on the fact that CBI could not find any evidence against the accused in those 7 years. As per the judgement, "Some people created a scam by artfully arranging a few selected facts and exaggerating things beyond recognition to astronomical levels..."

            I am not sure what to make of this, more so considering that this happened when the opposing party, BJP, was in power. - Was there no scam at all? Was there a scam but they just accused the wrong people? Is the judiciary and/or CBI complicit? And, if so is BJP complicit too, because ideally they should have every incentive to ensure the rule of law is enforced to the fullest degree considering that the accused were from the opposition Congress party?

            • signal11 10 days ago

              > Was there no scam at all?

              Mihir Sharma’s book Restart (2014) has a good chapter on this. The answer it seems was, no.

              It’s not in the national interest to charge maximal prices for natural resources, and this is followed by many countries even today — China and the US included — and such rights are given away for a nominal or modest price, and always with a view to ensuring wide market participation.

              Even European spectrum auctions have a clear aim of ensuring a sustainable market of 4 or more effective competitors.

              This has been historic practice in India also. For instance, the British colonial government gave India’s other big industrial group — the Tatas — rights to coal and iron mining in the late 1800s for free to set up India’s first steel plant. Even the BJP’s own Vajpayee government did this.

              The CAG’s “notional loss theory”, he argues, is rubbish. And looking at the events in India’s once vibrant Mobile Telecom industry, which has has now been reduced to an effective duopoly, one can argue Sharma was right.

              • rgrs 10 days ago

                IIRC, They paid back the bribes which they collected using shell companies

          • pankajdoharey 10 days ago

            India is a tough market with overregulation and corruption as the article points out. Being an Entrepreneur must be hard in India.

          • febed 10 days ago

            > The client made millions from this bank's operations alone. The client? Reliance.

            That's a huge revelation, why wasn't this news? Reliance is the perfect example of crony capitalism.

          • samdung 10 days ago

            For those looking for the banned book "The Polyester Prince: The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani" ... here's the link to donwload: https://www.dropbox.com/s/e1kdqqnqpl9uhfv/The-Polyester-Prin...

          • techfoolery 10 days ago

            Agreed with the premise of title. I think Vedica Kant does a more comprehensive job laying out where Reliance comes from & how it was shaped in her substack newsletter two-parter:

            https://hind.substack.com/p/reliance-origins

            https://hind.substack.com/p/from-oil-to-jio

            • agustamir 10 days ago

              > That JIO has designed and developed a complete 5G solution from scratch

              Is that really true, or just some marketing hogwash? If true, then why is Jio not building a Huawei and helping install 5G all over the world? From what I know, very few companies have the technology to build 5G infrastructure.

            • fareesh 10 days ago

              If India is Detroit in the Robocop universe, Reliance is OCP.

            • areoform 10 days ago

              > Reliance’s timing was uncanny: when tariffs went up, Reliance happened to have stockpiled the goods in question; when their inventories ran down, tariffs dropped. It’s unclear when the system switched from Reliance knowing what the government would do to Reliance deciding what the government would do, but clearly at the peak of their power they were able to call the shots.

              > As a public company, Reliance engaged in some novel financial engineering—issuing convertible bonds with ambiguous conversion terms, exploiting those terms to get cash when necessary, and at one point cornering the market in their own stock. Perhaps the high point of Reliance’s financial engineering was in 1986, when the company publicly stated that earnings would rise, then found that earnings weren’t rising after all. The solution: an 18-month fiscal year. Record profits secured.

              > Jio’s fundraise was opportunistic in two directions: Reliance wanted to delever, and outside investors wanted access to India’s market. It’s not a coincidence that this fundraising occurred at the same time that tensions with China erupted; a country that can ban TikTok and restrict Chinese investments can do the same to other countries, too. And, of course, it helps that Jio is getting more liquidity at the same time that its competitors mysteriously found themselves on the hook for giant fines.

              For clarity's sake, usually bribery, securities fraud, money laundering, revenue recognition fraud and other demonstrably fraudulent activities gets you put in jail. Not lauded as being clever.

              If the investments put in by Facebook and Google are used to manipulate the local political environment, does this mean that they're on the hook for liability via 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1, et seq.? Or, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? Do the firms have liability, or are they shielded via virtue of the "investment"?

              -

              Some Google searches later, one of their executives, p̶r̶e̶s̶u̶m̶a̶b̶l̶y̶ ̶a̶ ̶f̶a̶m̶i̶l̶y̶ ̶m̶e̶m̶b̶e̶r̶, tried to get someone killed by calling in the mob, https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/cover-story/story/1989083...

              https://www.economist.com/leaders/2014/08/02/an-unloved-bill...

              Their history is hard to believe and harder to square away. Will this lower FB and G's liability shield? Any thorough due diligence should easily uncover more in this wretched hive of scum and villainy.

              • rajekas 10 days ago

                A little bit more Googling will tell you that Kirti Ambani, the man accused of ordering the hit, was no relative of Dhirubai, the Godfather.

                Nusli Wadia, the man he was supposedly getting killed, is the head of an important textile firm himself and the grandson of the founder of Pakistan.

                The scandal of which this episode is but one battle, led to the downfall of Rajiv Gandhi's government and triggered the long downfall of the Congress party, which is how Dhirubai's son Mukesh finds himself so close to the current regime whose predecessors, ironically, benefited enormously from the alleged chumminess between the father Ambani and Rajiv.

                Wretched hive of scum and villainy seems a bit overwrought though; par for the course for robber barons and way less scummy and violent than Andrew Carnegie or Cecil Rhodes and other titans of western industry.

                Plus they haven't caused coups in Central American countries. Yet. Though I wouldn't mind if Mukesh bhai bought England and replaced the Union Jack with the Tricolour.

                • pankajdoharey 10 days ago

                  > Though I wouldn't mind if Mukesh bhai bought England and replaced the Union Jack with the Tricolour.

                  I dont think he has enough buck in the bank to buy an entire country.

                  • techie128 10 days ago

                    > I dont think he has enough buck in the bank to buy an entire country.

                    give it some time

                    • searchableguy 10 days ago

                      He has enough to buy politicians.

                • eunos 10 days ago

                  So will Ambani become the India's tech Godfather. If that so then it is interesting if we compare India's tech scene and China's.

                  For example, the Chinese tech giants (Jack Ma, Pony Ma, Robin Li, et al) seems come from zero, instead of other established rich folks (Dalian Wanda group, Li Ka Shing, Walter Kwok).

                  • sub7 10 days ago

                    Mukesh does nothing if he can't be a monopoly.

                    He will allow thousands to succeed or fail under him, but nobody will participate without paying their tax.

                  • forgot_user1234 10 days ago

                    I am stuck in a small city near Delhi.

                    It's hard to find things like olive oil anywhere except for Jio app. Atleast I am thankful for that.

                    • known 10 days ago
                      • michaelyoshika 10 days ago

                        tl;dr: a monopoly with deep ties to government.

                        • known 10 days ago

                          And to understand Reliance, you need to understand Caste system in India;

                          TL;DR

                          Casteism is an Organized mafia in India since 700 BC https://archive.is/PdiUF

                          BC/SC/ST people, 80% in India, were denied education/employment and basic human rights for 2700+ years as per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rigveda in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Indian_history

                          In 1932 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._R._Ambedkar, Architect of the Constitution of India demanded a separate country (not Reservations/Affirmative Action) for them https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communal_Award

                          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahatma_Gandhi opposed it, bullied and bribed them with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poona_Pact

                          • kcsomisetty 10 days ago

                            I would acknowledge that opportunities were denied based on caste, But 'Denied education for 2700+ years' is a strong claim with out any proof is taking your argument little too far.

                            Aatukuri Molla was a celebrated poet, not from upper caste.

                            She faced initial resistance not because of her caste, but because of her choice not to use sanskrit while translating the epic ramayana to Telugu. Once she proved her talent, she was granted audience to emperor and awarded with title 'Gem of Poets'. Her version of ramayana is still popular to this day.

                            Annamacharya, is also another poet who being a brahmin, also faced similar resistance from established scholars because he composed his poems with local lingo rather than sanskrit.

                            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atukuri_Molla https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annamacharya

                            Dont confuse elitism with casteism.

                            • eklavya 9 days ago

                              Are you just stuck on the caste thing? Why do you bring it in in every conversation about India? Wtf has it got to do with reliance?

                              • naruvimama 9 days ago

                                Yes, we should celebrate new India breaking free of the upper castes and democracy coming of age.

                                What can be a better sign than PM Narendra Modi & President Abdul Kalam - by far the most popular leaders of India.

                                My dear friend better days are ahead of us.

                              • haltingproblem 9 days ago

                                This is a bizarre article in the flavor of NY Times India coverage which cannot look at India except through the lens of cow, caste and curry. After all how could a third world entrepreneur build the biggest data network in the world for the cheapest price? Not once but twice!

                                One instance of how the article is riddled with errors:

                                "From 1980 to 1985, the number of equity investors in India rose from 1m to 5m, and by 1985 1 million of them owned shares of Reliance. Since equity investors are likely to be middle class and above, this gave Reliance a broader political constituency: instead of buying individual regulators with bribes, they nudged the electorate with dividends."

                                As per [1] 240 million people cast votes in the 1985 election. So with 0.25% of the total vote scattered across hundreds of constituencies Reliance was able to swing the electorate which is fractured across die-hard political affiliations, economic interests, religions and caste hierarchies. Sure whatever.

                                Perhaps it is hard for the author to admit that Mukesh Ambani, the current CEO of Relaince/Jio and son of the founder, is a unparalleled operational genius. He singlehandedly led the team that rolled out the biggest refinery in the world in Gujurat in 1999 [2] where "biggest in the world" and India never went together for anything manufactured.

                                He also rolled out Reliance Communications in the 1990s which was then the cheapest mobile provider by an order of magnitude [3]. That business went to his brother Anil in the family split in 2006 and Anil ran it into the ground. When their fraternal non-complete expired Mukesh built out Jio which again dropped data pricing by an order of magnitude and made voice free. Jio now has the cheapest data in the world [4]. This bankrupted all his competitors who were centi-billion market cap companies and forced them to drop prices and merge. It also bought hundreds of millions of extremely poor Indians to feature phone ownership for the first time. They had the opportunity to what he did but could not. They also wielded the same power with the bureaucracy that he did but were not able to leverage it.

                                I certainly would like 12GB of data $1.23. Heck, even 10x that is a bargain. But instead of pondering what he did the author spins dark tales of subterfuge, mafia, corruption and bribes.

                                Eye-roll

                                [1] https://www.idea.int/data-tools/country-view/146/40

                                [2] https://www.bechtel.com/projects/jamnagar-oil-refinery/

                                [3] https://www.rediff.com/money/2002/dec/27ril1.htm

                                [4] https://www.cable.co.uk/mobiles/worldwide-data-pricing/

                                • OrangeKnucles 10 days ago

                                  This is why free market is the best. There is in-equality but only the ones who serve people become successful. As compared to places with lots of governmental regulation, where only those close to the politicians win.

                                  • known 10 days ago

                                    When will the Brahmin-Bania hegemony end? https://archive.is/VWFSC

                                    • kcsomisetty 10 days ago

                                      The article is self contradictory. not HN worthy. Let me point out few anamolies.

                                      1. Confuses CEO for an owner. (TATASteel is owned by Parsis, but CEO is brahmin, so this must be a symbol of brahmin supremacy).

                                      2. Categorizes Muslim owner as Hindu Baniya (Wipro owner Premji's ancestor was ex-Baniya, so its Baniya supremacy that led to his success?).

                                      3. Brahmin/Baniya Controls the media (the castes may be B/B, but the owners of 99% media are left leaning/communists)

                                      4. Y.S Reddy is a peasant Christian. (reddy caste dont see themselves as neither peasants nor shudras). As per govt caste classification, Reddy is upper caste. so Y.S Reddy is upper caste christian.

                                      5. Article gives an impression that Successful people are successful because of their caste. (Gandhi was a baniya, but he did not become Mahatma Gandhi because he was Baniya, he came the leader he was because of his charishma, non violence, ability to influence people, and british's inclination to encourage non violent struggle (instead of violent struggle)).

                                      6. Conveniently Ignoring successful people from other castes. (TATA (parent of TCS), Wipro, DrReddy labaratories, Suzlon, Heritage, Cognizant all are founded and run successfully by non-Brahmins, non-Baniyas, non-Hindus) if reddys/choudharys are poor peasants, why were they not featured as successful businessman ?

                                      7. Ignoring failures of Brahmins/Baniya (Mukesh Ambani built a successful empire, while his brother Anil Ambani ran many successful business to the ground. Both are Baniyas. what makes you think being baniya helped one brother, but not the other? Its almost as if, caste has no role in success of the business).

                                      The article is written with an agenda, and the author never stopped to question her/his assumptions. Probably a paid PR piece.

                                      • kcsomisetty 10 days ago

                                        2 more points.

                                        Lingayat's in Karnataka are richest and powerful political class. They are not peasant class.

                                        Jat's see themselves has kshatriyas and not shudras.

                                        My head is aching, the author could not even get basic facts right.

                                        • boruto 10 days ago

                                          Yes it is a paid piece. The account posts the same link in every HN thread about India.