A tussle between Amazon.com Inc. and Reliance Industries Ltd. to dominate India’s $1 trillion consumer market is fuelling nationalist oratory in a courtroom as well as outside, as the two companies are battling over the future of Future Group’s assets.
In the epicentre of the case, there are Amazon’s efforts to block Reliance’s planned purchase of the assets of Future Group’s, as they are stating that the Indian retailer has violated an agreement by agreeing to sell to a rival controlled by billionaire Mukesh Ambani. The Delhi High Court is now assessing if the U.S. e-commerce giant has any legal ground to object to the transaction and a decision is expected in weeks.
The legal tussle has not only revealed the extremity of the battle between two of the world’s business dominators, Jeff Bezos and Mr Ambani, but has also sparked a “foreign versus local” debate. A lawyer for Future Group, in his argument, has called Amazon as the “Big Brother in America out to crush a small local company,” while a retailer lobby group has declared its “support to Indian company Future Group in its fight against Foreign Amazon.”
Amazon wants Indian courts and regulators to enforce a business agreement in the tussle which it views as a commercial dispute. If Future Group is allowed to go back on its contract with Amazon, it might signal the global investors that investments in India are risky, the U.S. company alleges. This might be an inconvenient image at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs foreign investment to create jobs and reboot an economy disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The chances are high for both Amazon and Reliance. Securing Future’s assets will give Reliance, the biggest retailer in the country, an unrivalled edge in a market where most consumers still prefer shopping in stores. That’s an advantage Amazon is not willing to let go of and nor is Amazon willing to be upstaged by nationalistic arguments after losing ground to home-grown rivals in China.