After more than two years of negotiations with various states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh, the semiconductor manufacturing joint venture between India’s Vedanta and Taiwan’s Foxconn closed the deal with Gujarat. This was announced by Vedanta Chairman Anil Agarwal on twitter. Immediately after the announcement, the political controversy started in Maharashtra. This was led by the opposition comprising the Uddhav Thackarey faction of Shiv Sena, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and Gandhi family’s Indian National Congress (INC), who collectively form the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) which means Great Development Alliance. They are accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of compromising Maharashtra’s interests and allowing Gujarat to attract industry and investors and pull them out of Maharashtra. Along with politicians and their supporters, even media persons and media houses joined the debate with accusations against the BJP for unduly favouring Gujarat at the cost of Maharashtra. While this controversy blew up, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and former Chief Minister and current Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and their cabinet maintained a pin drop silence for more than 12 hours. It is understood that Fadnavis was in Russia and hence there could be a reason for delay in response.
Later, Industries Minister of Maharashtra Uday Samant made a small statement that the MVA government was never serious about the semiconductor project, which was supposed to come up at Talegaon near Pune, as it never formed a high-powered committee and decided on incentive packages to be offered. Samant added that the delay and folly of the MVA government led to the project going to Gujarat. He further said: “We are also feeling sad over losing the project. We are sorry. On Tuesday, the Chief Minister put forth his views before the Prime Minister on Vedanta (Foxconn semi-conductor project). The CM held a detailed discussion with the prime minister on this matter. The PM has assured the youth that a similar project, or a better one, will be given to Maharashtra.”
In the war of words, Shiv Sena leader and former minister Aaditya Thackeray had said the project was almost finalised by the erstwhile MVA government, but the current dispensation has lost the confidence of potential investors. Analysing the statement of the Industries Minister highlights the following points: 1. Accusing the MVA government for losing the project; 2. The Chief Minister discussed with the Prime Minister and got an assurance for a similar or bigger project; 3. There is no rebuttal to the accusations by Aaditya Thackarey.
Prima facie, this statement by the Industries Minister may per se sound good and satisfactory enough for a section of the BJP supporters. However, this does not help the party in setting the right narrative. This statement may not cut ice with many conditional supporters of the BJP and neutral observers and voters. Vedanta Chairman Anil Agarwal tweeted the reasons for selecting Gujarat over Maharashtra, which was more detailed explanation from the joint venture company’s side. While the company was communicating, the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government has not made a detailed and elaborate statement explaining the reasons why Maharashtra lost the deal. The government needs to also present what initiatives it undertook since it came in power, after the Eknath Shinde faction rebelled against Uddhav Thackarey to split the Sena and join with the BJP to form an alliance and then the government.
The statement made by the Industries Minister sounds inadequate in the wake of aforementioned arguments. The BJP seems to be missing the narrative and is dependent only on social media warriors and influencers in defending the party and the government, and debunking the propaganda by the constituents of the erstwhile MVA Government. The current Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government is falling short of presenting the full picture on the series of events and where and how Maharashtra failed in convincing Vedanta-Foxconn on investing in Maharashtra. At the same time, they need to present the initiatives taken by the current government after it came in power to seal the deal. This should include following facts:
1. What did the Government of Maharashtra under the control of the MVA do and not do to provide confidence to Vedanta- Foxconn on investing in the state?
2. What was the erstwhile MVA government doing for two years when Vedanta-Foxconn were negotiating with multiple states, including Maharashtra?
3. Explain in detail the consequences of the previous deal with Foxconn to manufacture Apple iPhones in Talegaon and reasons for Foxconn to back out of the same. The reasons for Foxconn refusing to investing in Maharashtra after signing the deal in 2015 when Fadnavis was in power, need to be explained.
4. Policy flip-flops by the erstwhile MVA government and reversal of schemes initiated by the BJP-Shiv Sena government in creating uncertainty among investors.
5. What were the initiatives undertaken by the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government to salvage the deal with Vedanta-Foxconn?
6. What was the state’s stand on issues like free land for 99 years lease, assured power and water supply at subsidized rates for 20 years, and incentives on investment during the erstwhile MVA government and thereafter when Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis formed the government?
7. What was the gross and net economic impact of the offer made by the current Government in Maharashtra?
8. What was the deal offered by Gujarat and why Maharashtra couldn’t match or better the offer? What were the factors and issues that restricted or prohibited the current government in that?
In an age when lot of information is available easily on internet, silence and inadequate information and explanation provided by the BJP government doesn’t augur well for its own self. The aggressive and convincing assaults by the opposition needs a strong rebuttal with facts and elaborate explanation of the sequence of events and developments and reasons for Maharashtra losing the deal to Gujarat. The BJP must not forget that it is accused of being a “Gujarati party” which focuses on interests of Gujaratis and is led by Gujaratis and doesn’t work for Marathis. Weak, inadequate, and delayed response by the BJP on this issue could be detrimental to its own political interests and brand, which can have a negative impact on the electoral outcome in the future.
Sumeet Mehta is a chartered accountant by qualification. He tweets from @sumeetnmehta.