By: Sarwar Alam
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party on Friday (17) slammed editorial policies of billionaire Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, even as his e-commerce firm Amazon announced plans to create a million jobs in the country by 2025.
Vijay Chauthaiwale, the chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) foreign affairs department, said there was “a lot of problem” with the newspaper’s coverage of India, without giving any specific examples.
The swipe at the Post came a day after a cabinet minister gave short shrift to Amazon’s investment plans for India.
Bezos has praised India during his ongoing visit, saying the 21st century will be the Indian century and that the dynamism and energy in the country was “something special”.
“I am not opposing Amazon as a company, in fact I am a regular customer … Jeff Bezos should go home tell Washington Post what is his impression about India,” Chauthaiwale told Reuters.
“The Washington Post editorial policy is highly biased and agenda driven.”
Washington Post’s India bureau chief, Joanna Slater, referred a Reuters request for comment to the newspaper’s spokespersons in Washington, who did not immediately respond outside regular business hours.
Chauthaiwale has in the past been critical of foreign media’s reporting on political issues, including on the disputed region of Kashmir which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, saying coverage has been biased against Modi.
Amazon did not respond to an email seeking comment on Chauthaiwale’s remarks.
In Amazon’s statement on Friday announcing the job-creation plans, Bezos said: “we’re excited about what lies ahead”, but street protests this week by small retailers and adverse comments from politicians have made Bezos’ visit a public relations nightmare for Amazon.
India’s shopkeepers have represented a core constituency for the BJP since the early days of the party. And sources told Reuters that Modi, who has otherwise courted foreign investors, was unlikely to meet Bezos during his visit despite repeated requests by the company in light of traders’ concerns and an ongoing antitrust probe.
India last year enforced stringent rules for foreign investment in e-commerce which forced Amazon to rework its business structures and strained ties between New Delhi and Washington.
In recent months, the government has said it is concerned about issues raised by India’s brick-and-mortar retailers who say they’ve been hit by Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart which flout regulations and burn billions of dollars to offer steep discounts. The companies deny the allegations.
India’s antitrust body this week launched a probe into both Amazon and Flipkart.
On Thursday, Bezos attended a company event in Mumbai with Bollywood actors such as Shah Rukh Khan and said the company would “double down” its investments on its video streaming service, Prime Video.
But the event was largely overshadowed by comments made by India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal, who raised questions about the company’s business practices while addressing a security conference in New Delhi and said Amazon had done no big favour to India by announcing a new $1 billion investment.
Industry executives and their advisers told Reuters on Friday that Goyal’s remarks were likely to put off foreign investors, denting India’s economic growth which is already projected to fall to a 11-year low this year.
“This clearly is unbecoming, and it will hurt how the world views India as a destination,” said a senior executive of a U.S.-based company operating in India.