Musk ki guarantee 'delayed', sets tongues wagging

Musk himself declared that his much-anticipated India visit would be postponed


It was perhaps the biggest non-political visit to India after Rihanna’s Ambani pre-wedding serenade. And considering the political overtones it had acquired ever since the surprise announcement, it is no wonder that tongues are now wagging in salivation.

Elon Musk took to his own microblogging platform X (formerly Twitter) on Saturday to declare that his much-anticipated India visit would be postponed, surprising many in exactly much the same way he did a bit more than a week ago when he announced he was travelling to India and looked forward to meeting PM Modi. “Very heavy Tesla obligations” was the reason he mentioned for the delay, though not many took it at face value.

With a stretched out general elections on in India, it had raised eyebrows across the board when the world’s richest man and the maverick behind global corporate behemoths like Tesla (electric vehicle), X (social media), SpaceX (space) and Starlink (internet from space) sprung a surprise India visit in early April. And equally, with its postponement. 

If political back rooms at one side of the spectrum were abuzz with whispers on how it was PM Modi’s masterstroke to get Musk to India and announce his big investment in the country through Tesla setting up EV manufacturing in the country (a government policy tweak last month had slashed import duties from 70% to just 15% for those promising investment in manufacturing of at least 4,000 crore rupees) and thereby give a boost to the ruling party campaign, the other side of the divide went full throttle once the news of the postponement came.

“(Musk) too has now read the writing on the wall and decided to put off his visit,” said the spokesman of the main opposition party Congress, Jairam Ramesh. He went on to add that his party-led INDIA alliance, once it comes to power after the polls, will be welcoming him, hinting at a reversal of fortunes.

In India, governments stop making policy decisions once the elections are announced and the model code of conduct comes into force. So it was anyway surprising that Musk, who was lobbying for getting his Tesla cars into India with discounts, chose this particular time. Many believed that the ruling dispensation’s manoeuvre was behind it, to score a brownie point without breaking the model code of conduct, by making Musk make the announcement of his investments.

While no official confirmation on what really happened is yet available, the truth could well lie elsewhere. Tesla’s January-March 2024 results have been disappointing, with car deliveries declining by nearly 9% and growing threat of Chinese EV makers like BYD in the American market (They have all but sidelined Tesla in many other markets, including China). Investors and market experts are set to question him at an earnings call scheduled for April 23 about falling sales and the massive layoffs at Tesla’s plants in the US.

There is also quite a possibility that the bureaucrats had warned the politicians that the guarantees and permissions Musk wanted, not just for Tesla but the clearance for his Starlink ‘internet from space’ service to start operations in India, would flout the model code of conduct if they were announced right now. Or, knowing Musk’s propensity for shooting his mouth off through incoherent ramblings on X, some allege under the influence of psychotropic substances, might have been to blame for his announcement and its later withdrawal.

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