For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser or Download our App.

Elon Musk’s India Visit, after Bill Gates, and Media Pushing Modi's Brand in Election Season

Earlier, Prasar Bharati proposed airing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's interview with Microsoft founder Bill Gates to the Election Commission. However, the EC didn't formally respond but conveyed that airing it could disrupt the level playing field.
Elon Musk. Photo: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Note: Elon Musk, in a post on X (formerly Twitter), on Saturday (April 20), announced that “due to heavy Tesla obligations”, his India visit had to be delayed.

New Delhi: Billionaire Elon Musk, among the top ten richest persons in the world according to Forbes, is scheduled to visit India on April 21 and 22. Musk, whose electric carmaker Tesla has seen slumping sales in the US even as demand for electric vehicles cools, appears to be looking for a new market in India, the most populous country.

In addition, Musk’s Starlink is expected to receive a go-ahead from the home ministry, as the telecom ministry has already granted an in-principal approval to the company for satellite communications service in India. In short, the licence allocation process accelerated ahead of his visit.

Obtaining a global mobile personal communication by satellite services, or a GMPCS licence, is the first step toward setting up a satellite internet service. The process also includes trial spectrum obtained through the administrative route at a nominal application fee.

In India, Musk is expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Musk is not only about Tesla and Starlink, but now owns X (formerly Twitter) and it is a social media platform with a significant impact on speech, expression and conversations amongst Indians. In the middle of a general election, this can mean many things.

Elon Musk’s engagement with free speech

Musk’s visit to India, coinciding with ongoing general elections, could be viewed in light of the X (formerly Twitter) founder’s compliance with government takedown orders, despite previously promising greater free speech and less political intervention. This, despite the fact that he styles himself as a free speech warrior.

For instance, as per The Guardian, “he [Musk] will defend someone’s right to use transphobic and ableist language online to the very end but God forbid anyone should exercise their freedom of speech to say anything bad about him! The thin-skinned billionaire has forced employees to sign restrictive non-disparagement agreements and Twitter has been accused of suspending the accounts of journalists who have covered the platform. There are also claims that the platform has censored Palestinian public figures and suspended accounts which have been critical of Israel’s war on Gaza.”

According to Rest of World, which accessed the company’s self-reported data, Twitter received 971 government and court requests from October 27, 2022 to April 27, 2023.

“Most alarmingly, Twitter’s self-reports do not show a single request in which the company refused to comply, as it had done several times before the Musk takeover,” Rest of World said.

India made 50 requests, according to Rest of World, which was the third-highest. Only Turkey (491) and Germany (255) made more requests.

What about the Model Code of Conduct?

C. Aryama Sundaram, senior advocate, told moneycontrol that the MCC was framed to ensure free and fair elections. “Naturally, if any government in power, is in a position to announce any policy decisions, or introduce any schemes attractive to the people, it would have an unfair advantage and do away with the level playing field,” he said.

“This being the underlying purpose of the Code, any action has to be looked at from those eyes, since most obviously, a government cannot stop functioning upon elections being announced, nor can the governance of the country be brought to a standstill.”

“As far as the announcement of an investment by Tesla is concerned, the same can at best be said to be coinciding with the general elections. However, such a coincidence does not have the potential in any manner for Tesla to be found in violation of the MCC,” senior advocate and former Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain told moneycontrol.

Jain added that the mere announcement of expansion of business operations in a country by a multinational company cannot be equated to a governmental scheme, which has the potential of influencing the minds of voters, when the MCC is in place.

“MCC can never apply to a foreign entity…It is only if the Indian government were to announce a policy will it be violative of the MCC,” senior advocate and former ASG Vikas Singh told the news outlet.

The Wire reached out to several people regarding this matter, and none expressed strong feelings about the issue.

However, Musk’s meeting with Modi could definitely give a boost to Modi’s brand.

Modi interview with Bill Gates not aired

Earlier, Prasar Bharati, the public broadcaster, had sent a proposal to the Election Commission to broadcast Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interview with Microsoft founder Bill Gates. However, the EC didn’t formally respond to the proposal, but conveyed that the interview should not be aired as it would disrupt the level-playing field.

However, the news of the prime minister interacting with Big Tech founders could definitely create a buzz in the minds of the voters.

Take for instance, ahead of Musk’s visit, the DoT process was expedited. Starlink initiated the process of applying for the GMPCS licence in November 2022.

Interestingly, the prime minister has been giving interviews to news agency ANI, which are being carried by mainstream news outlets, on his interaction with Bill Gates and Musk’s potential ventures in India.

The election dates were announced on March 16. As earlier mentioned, the Model Code of Conduct is applicable immediately after the dates are announced.

On March 15, the Centre approved the E-Vehicle (EV) policy to promote India as a manufacturing destination for EVs. The policy requires companies to invest a minimum amount of Rs 4,150 crore. There’s no maximum investment cap.

Meetings are being held among different ministries, ahead of Musk’s visit, on ease of doing business and further expansion of the e-mobility and satellite communications sectors.

Make a contribution to Independent Journalism
facebook twitter