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Sunil Mittal reveals how meeting with PM Modi inspired Bharti Airtel's recovery amid challenges from Reliance JIO: Report
Photo courtesy: bharti.com | File image/UNI

Sunil Mittal reveals how meeting with PM Modi inspired Bharti Airtel's recovery amid challenges from Reliance JIO: Report

| @indiablooms | 30 May 2024, 07:30 pm

Mumbai: Sunil Bharti Mittal, who leads Bharti Airtel, has revealed that a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September 2018 turned out to be a turning point for him at a time when his telecom company was in the midst of a severe crisis.

In an interview with the Economic Times, Bharti Group founder said Airtel was struggling to cope up with the drastic change in the business scenario due free voice and data services provided by new entrant Reliance Jio and string of decisions by the telecom regulator.

Mittal, who had recently finished his term as chairman of the International Chambers of Commerce and occasionally briefed the Prime Minister on WTO, G20, and other issues, requested permission to discuss the critical state of the Indian telecom industry.

During the meeting, where he conversed with Modi in Hindi, Mittal conveyed to the PM: "I will fight in the marketplace, but I can't fight the government."

In response to his concerns, Modi assured Mittal that the government would not favour either side and would act in the best interest of the country.

The Prime Minister encouraged Mittal to compete in the marketplace, emphasizing that the government would remain impartial.

Mittal expressed his gratitude and considered this meeting as a crucial turning point for Airtel.

"He told me that this government will not tilt towards either side. Whatever is good for the country will be done. You fight in the marketplace. I don't have a view on that. But from the side of the government, you can be sure that the government will not take sides," Mittal said. "And that was enough for me. I got up and thanked him... This was the turning point (for Airtel),” Mittal was quoted as saying.

Mittal’s interview with Economic Times followed Airtel's achievement of a $100 billion market cap on May 27.

In the interview, Mittal spoke about the meeting with Modi. He also recollected the numerous challenges the company faced over its nearly three-decade history to reach this milestone.

Mittal said that the meeting with Modi filled him with an indescribable sense of energy and inspiration.

"Sometimes you need an inspiration. I do that to my troops. I needed that from someone. There was a very strong special message (from the PM): Fight in the market. Here was a man telling me-who has himself fought against a lot of odds-that you do your work and be very reassured that this government is going to only do things that are good for the nation," he said. 

He told ET, that the meeting with PM Modi prompted Mittal to look at the regulations, which he had previously viewed as unfavourable to Airtel, from a broader perspective.

He came to realize that lower tariffs might have been politically advantageous for the government and could have facilitated the democratization of data services.

The reassurance that there was no hidden agenda allowed him to see things in a new light.

Airtel's market cap has increased by over $80 billion in the past five years, rising from around $19 billion in 2019, which was less than the total investment in the business up to that point. Mittal strongly believes that the notion of the government favouring only a select few is entirely mistaken.

He regards Airtel's $100 billion market cap as a reflection of India's current state, not just the success of his company.

He emphasized the influx of money, capital, and investments into the country, along with the growing stock market and significant valuations, as signs of a stable, robust, and functional economy under strong leadership.

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