Political economy of Anant Ambani's lavish pre-wedding ceremony

Mukesh Ambani, the Chairman of Reliance Industries, Isha Piramal, Anand Piramal, Nita Ambani, Anant Ambani, Rihanna, Radhika Merchant, Shloka Mehta Ambani and Akash Ambani stand on the stage during pre-wedding celebrationsReliance Industries/Handout via Reuters

'Elahi kanda' (great éclat). This idiom, encountered in a Bengali grammar book, may seem enigmatic at first glance.

However, Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India, has revealed the true essence of 'elahi kanda'.


Mukesh's younger son, Anant Ambani, is set to marry Radhika Merchant, the daughter of Indian industrialist Viren Merchant.

The grand pre-wedding ceremony of Anant and Radhika unfolded from 1 to 3 March at Jamnagar, Gujarat in India.

This three-day extravaganza attracted luminaries from business, politics, sports, and entertainment and more -- both nationally and internationally.

Among the nearly 1,200 attendees were numerous globally recognized business leaders, such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Morgan Stanley CEO Ted Pick, Disney CEO Bob Iger, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, and Ivanka Trump, the daughter of former US President Donald Trump, along with her husband Jared Kushner.

The opulence of the event, coupled with the presence of distinguished guests, was the centre of global attention and widespread media coverage.

High-profile entertainers, including internationally renowned pop singer Rihanna, were enlisted to perform at the ceremony, alongside local and international stars.

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Given the more than substantial expenditure involved, numerous individuals are describing this event as an exhibition of extravagant and wasteful spending.

Acknowledging this viewpoint, it's important to explore the situation from an alternative angle. There exists a political-economic dimension to this wedding-related ceremony of the business family. Let's delve into that aspect. But first, let's examine some statistics.

As per Forbes magazine, Mukesh holds the title of the wealthiest individual in Asia, with a net worth of $117.5 billion. He occupies the ninth position on the list of the world's richest people.

According to Worldometer, a website that deals with statistics, India has the highest population in the world, currently standing at 1.43 billion people.

A recent report by India's government think tank NITI Aayog stated that the poverty rate in the country was 11.28 percent in 2022-23. However, Indian experts themselves have raised doubts about the accuracy and reliability of this index.

In the Global Hunger Index published in October last year, India was placed 111th out of 125 countries, while Bangladesh secured the 81st position. This indicates that India lags significantly behind neighboring Bangladesh in its ability to address hunger.

Given the circumstances, Mukesh, the chairman of Reliance Industries, orchestrated a spectacular pre-wedding celebration for his younger son, Anant. This event could be referred to as a 'wedding rehearsal' for the actual wedding scheduled for next July.

India Times has reported that the pre-wedding budget for Anant and Radhika exceeded Rs 1,200 crore. With the wedding ceremony yet to take place, it's natural to speculate about the total expenses the Ambanis will dole out for this event.

Inviting globally recognized businessmen, industrialists, investors, bankers, entrepreneurs, and CEOs to the pre-wedding ceremony holds significant economic value. This opens avenues for new business, investments and ventures, potentially expanding Reliance's empire.

The returns on this investment, whether in terms of social capital, political leverage, or future business opportunities, are anticipated to far outweigh the initial outlay.

I believe that this grand event will undoubtedly enhance the acceptance of Ambanis and Reliance. The event has already led to significant spread of Reliance's branding and marketing, not only in India but also worldwide.

These events possess considerable social value, often referred to as social capital. In the future, the benefits of this capital will accrue to the Ambani portfolio.

Politics is also at play here. Anant is known to be a supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In April 2019, Anant occupied a prominent seat in the front row during an election rally held by PM Modi of India's BJP government in Mumbai. He later informed the media that he attended the rally to listen to Modi and to express his support for the country.

The Ambanis' ancestral home is in Gujarat, coincidentally the same state where Modi's village home is located.

Several months ago, Modi urged India's wealthy to hold weddings within the country (Wed in India) rather than abroad. Anant mentioned that responding to the call from Modi was one of the reasons for selecting Jamnagar in Gujarat as the venue for the pre-wedding ceremony.

By heeding Modi's call to host lavish weddings domestically, the Ambanis not only align themselves with the government's agenda but also solidify their position within the corridors of power.

Recently, Mukesh has been openly praising Modi. In January of this year, during the 'Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit', he expressed his admiration for Modi, stating that he believes Modi to be the most successful prime minister in the history of India, capable of achieving the impossible.

It is evident that the Ambanis are making efforts to appease Modi. But why are businessmen like them making these efforts? That's something worth thinking about.

The money that the Ambanis have poured into the so called pre-wedding, the more they will spend upfront, which may seem like a 'waste' in the eyes of the general public.

However, within the context of the Ambani family's extensive business ventures, this expense can be seen as a strategic investment.

The returns on this investment, whether in terms of social capital, political leverage, or future business opportunities, are anticipated to far outweigh the initial outlay.