Mr ArcelorMittal, we’ve abolished zamindari system

Lakshmi Mittal, India’s second richest man by assets and owner of the global steel giant Arcelor Mittal, has said that “India is not a top priority for him”. The ostensible reason was that the country took fair amount of time to clear his investment proposals.

If I were India’s industry minister, I would have told him to take a walk, just as a French minister did recently, warning Mittal of consequences if he were to shut his steel plants in France. India is a prized market today. Our billion-plus consumer base makes top leaders – from Obama to Cameron – drool.

Mittal’s views should wake up governments who think it is for industrialists, such as Mittal, to make India progress. Industry does create wealth and jobs. They are critical for economic development of any country. However, it is not their priority to help a country progress. Their foremost goal, quite simply, is to earn money for themselves, what in economics is pleasantly called “profit maximization”. At times, that worsens into “expropriation” of wealth too. Mittal’s remarks have once again proved this simple home truth.

It’s a shame Mittal said what he did. He is the second richest man in Europe and the richest man in the United Kingdom for the fifth time in a row. That hasn’t helped Britain shore up its recession-hit economy.

Mittal is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, India’s first business school. He may have learnt a lot of “business” in that school, but obviously did not learn “social welfare” in the larger sense. He ought to have cared about the fact, while making those insensitive remarks, that he cut his business teeth in his motherland – India.

I don’t see Mittal as an Indian really. He stays mostly abroad, doesn’t vote, and owns global industrial assets, which are described as “too big to fail”. His current residence is at London’s 18-19 Kensington Palace Gardens, which he purchased for US $ 128 million, making it the most expensive home at the time. It is named Taj Mittal, since its interiors reportedly have marble taken from the same quarry as the famous Taj Mahal.

Mr Mittal ought to have realized that India has long abolished the zamindari system, under which families owned vast, private fiefdoms, where they used to have virtual free runs. If his investment proposals take time to be passed, he ought to wait. The law of the land doesn’t allow disregard of environmental concerns. Acquiring land takes time too, although the government is trying to make it a simpler process. Mittal doesn’t do us a favour – to re-phrase Mahatma Gandhi’s advice to traders — by selling stuff to us; we do him a favour by buying things from him. Period.

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