India’s richest man has picked a side in the ongoing parliamentary elections—and it’s not the one that was widely expected.
Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani has come out in support of Milind Deora, Mumbai head of India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC).
“Milind is the man for south Mumbai,” Ambani is seen saying in a two-minute, 17-second video posted by Deora on Twitter on April 17. “Having represented south Mumbai for 10 years, I believe that Milind has in-depth knowledge of social, economic, and cultural ecosystem of the south Bombay [the old name for Mumbai] constituency…Both micro-enterprises and large businesses can thrive in Mumbai so that attractive new employment opportunities can be created.”
Ambani’s support for the 42-year-old INC politician is surprising given that for years, prime minister Narendra Modi has been perceived to be a “good friend and well-wisher” of the Reliance group. Media reports in the past have claimed that Ambani has benefitted from Modi’s leadership.
“This is surprising that Ambani has endorsed Deora, considering the ties he has with Modi,” a spokesperson for the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party’s regional ally Shiv Sena, which has fielded a candidate against Deora, told Reuters.
The video has landed as the INC is running a popular campaign—Chowkidar Chor Hai (the watchman himself is the thief)—against Modi for allegedly providing kickbacks to a company owned by Ambani’s younger brother, Anil.
“Usually, these big industrialists like to cover their bets. Mukesh Ambani had old connections with Milind Deora’s father. So, otherwise, it is not surprising. But in this climate, it is significant,” Prashant Bhushan, a senior supreme court advocate told HuffPost.
Beyond just the perceptions, this is a rare instance for India, where business leaders typically refrain from publicly endorsing candidates or parties. Deora’s video also features billionaire Uday Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank.
Read Quartz’s coverage of the 2019 Indian general election here.