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Bezos Gets an Earful on Brief Visit to India

Newser — Bob Cronin

Jeff Bezos' surprise trip to India may not have gone quite the way he expected. He arrived to government criticism of Washington Post coverage, the launching of an antitrust investigation of Amazon, and protests from small-business owners—despite his announcement that his company was investing $1 billion to help neighborhood stores.

Among the issues he ran into on his three-day visit were:

  • The announcement of a government probe into Amazon and Flipkart, an online retailer in India mostly owned by Walmart.

Small traders had called for the investigation after regulations to limit the company's market power—especially concerning online sales of cellphones—didn't work, the New York Times reports.

To protect Indian retailers and distributors, the law mandates that foreign-owned e-commerce firms be neutral marketplaces, like eBay, and only feature products from independent sellers—rather than buy, say, televisions wholesale and resell them to consumers.

  • Criticism of coverage of India by the Post, which Bezos owns, with official sarcasm thrown in.

After Bezos went on about India's economic growth potential in an appearance—and tweeted a video of it captioned: "Dynamism. Growth. Democracy."—Bezos received a suggestion from a government official.

"Please tell this to your employees in Washington DC. Otherwise your charm offensive is likely to be waste of time and money," the official tweeted.

The prime minister has been displeased by Post criticism of some of his government's policies, including a new citizenship law, per Quartz.

  • An angry reception by owners of small businesses.

A protest included signs reading, "Amazon go back" and "Amazon–Flipkart: Second version of the East India Company." A trade group says Amazon is costing Indians jobs with predatory pricing and other practices.

Amazon's planned investment to help get small businesses online and Bezos' promise to add a million jobs in India by 2025 didn't quiet the criticism. "It's not as if they are doing a great favor to India," the trade minister said, per the Independent.

  • Puzzlement over Bezos' agenda.

He laid a wreath at a Gandhi memorial and attended corporate events with a Bollywood guest list, but had no meetings scheduled with government officials. The prime minister declined to meet with Bezos, per NDTV. The government officials walked back their harshest comments later, but the small business group did not.

One of its officials said Bezos' $1 billion investment is part of a plan for Amazon to keep selling products at a loss, per Buzzfeed.

"They're trying to build a wrong and a false narrative here," the official said.

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