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Snapdeal, an Indian Amazon Rival, Distances Itself From Bollywood Star Spokesman

Aamir Khan incited outrage when he said his wife wondered if the couple should move out of India amid "a growing sense of despondency" in the country.

Jason Del Rey
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

When I visited India in April, I couldn’t get over all the airport billboards. Big, rotating digital ones atop the baggage carousels. Screaming yellow ones as tall as basketball hoops flanking the check-in counters. Almost all of them adorned with the same tagline: “India’s largest online store.”

Yet the ads bearing the same phrase were not from the same company. Some were from Amazon, which launched an Indian shopping site in 2013 and has promised to funnel $2 billion into its business there. The other billboards were advertising Snapdeal, one of two big homegrown Amazon competitors and backed by Alibaba and SoftBank.

While Amazon’s billboards highlighted its vast product assortment, all of Snapdeal’s billboards featured Bollywood heartthrob Aamir Khan. In the last two days, that has become a big problem for Snapdeal.

Khan, or his comments, ignited outrage earlier this week, when he said at a public event that his wife recently asked him for the first time whether they should consider moving out of India because of “a growing sense of despondency” in the country. Khan is one of only a few big-name Bollywood stars who are Muslim in the Hindu-majority country and his comments seemed to reference in part a recent attack against Muslims. Opponents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a favorite political figure for Silicon Valley, have criticized the leader for not condemning the anti-Muslim violence.

After originally declining to comment to Re/code, Snapdeal issued a statement on Wednesday distancing itself from its star spokesman:

“Snapdeal is neither connected nor plays a role in comments made by Aamir Khan in his personal capacity,” the statement read. “Snapdeal is a proud Indian company built by passionate young Indians focused on building an inclusive digital India. Everyday we are positively impacting thousands of small businesses and millions of consumers in India.”

The statement came as scores of Snapdeal customers on Twitter and Facebook called for the company to end its relationship with Khan and flooded the company’s app with one-star ratings. The company declined to comment on whether it is breaking ties with the celebrity.

In a follow-up statement, Khan said that he and his wife will remain in the country, but he stood by his remarks.

In the wake of the outrage, Snapdeal received a rare vote of support from the CEO of its fierce competitor Flipkart, Sachin Bansal.

Additional reporting by Mark Bergen.

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