As part of ongoing protests against India Farm Reforms 2020, farmer leaders have stood to boycott services offered by corporate industrialists, Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani. A major part of this stand will involve mobile connections by Reliance Jio – at present India’s leading mobile telecom operator by market share. While the boycott cry comes from farmer leaders at the forefront of the protest, the effects of this can potentially be far-reaching for the telecom operator that has witnessed largely uncontested growth, and added users to its network every month since its launch in September 2016.
Independent journalist Sandeep Singh reported this announcement from the press conference that farmer leaders held, after the Indian government issued its first response regarding India Farm Reforms 2020. Marking the response as inadequate, the leaders formally rejected the central government’s proposals, before announcing the boycott of Reliance Jio SIMs – perhaps the most ubiquitous commodity operated presently by any Ambani-owned business.
The move potentially marks an important moment for Reliance Jio, which has added new users to its network in every month since its September 2016 launch. Ever since its advent, Reliance Jio has undoubtedly had a major impact in the Indian telecom market, bringing down the average monthly cost of telephony and mobile data by a sizeable margin. This brought down data costs for mobile users in India to as low as Rs 3 per GB – a statistic that pegs India as one of the most affordable countries for internet services around the world.
As a result of Jio’s impact, Vodafone India initially merged with Idea Cellular in August 2018 to create India’s largest telecom conglomerate by market share. Vodafone-Idea, which recently rebranded to Vi, has since seen a sharp decline and now ranks third, behind Bharti Airtel. Reliance Jio, meanwhile, enjoys a seemingly unassailable lead. As of September 2020, Reliance Jio had 35.19 percent market share, followed by Bharti Airtel at 28.44 percent and Vi at 25.73 percent. Now, it will be interesting to see if TRAI subscriber data reveals an impact of decline in Jio’s user base, for the months going forward.
Along with the announcement’s potential impact on Reliance Jio, the decision also marks a particularly interesting conjunction in the ongoing farmer protests. Smartphones and social media have played key roles in raising awareness with regards to the protests, and the decision to boycott Reliance Jio’s services clearly put forth a message of intent from the farmer leaders. Ironically, the boycott comes after Ambani said at the ongoing India Mobile Congress 2020 about the need for strategic policies from the central government, to open up a larger market for telecom operators to access and market their data services in.
After over four years in service, the boycott of Reliance Jio by farmer leaders marks the first roadblock of note for the operator in its growing market size. Going forward, it will be interesting to note if corresponding communities also join in the protests. It is indeed too early to call, but this moment might just mark a pivotal turning point in what has been a clean, marauding run for Reliance Jio so far.