Some corporate leaders operate in the shadows. Not Ajit Mohan. Either by choice or due to the very nature of his job: the now former chief of Meta’s India division was thrust into the limelight by events with far-reaching business and regulatory ramifications.
So when Mohan quit Meta on 3 November, he brought to a close an eventful momentous four years at the US-based social-media giant, which was known as Facebook till October 2021.
Mohan, then chief executive of video-streaming service Hotstar, was brought on board with considerable autonomy in January 2019 as part of an India restructuring orchestrated by Meta’s then chief operating officer (COO), Sheryl Sandberg. This allowed Mohan to oversee key functions like sales, marketing, and government affairs, all of which had earlier reported to the Asia Pacific leadership or to the global headquarters, according to people who worked closely with the company.
Soon, there was a renewed focus on Meta’s family of social-media and chat apps—Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp—which eventually boosted the company’s fortunes in India.
Meta’s gross ad revenue grew 7X to Rs 16,189 crore (~US$2 billion) in the year ended March 2022 from Rs 2,254 crore (US$275 million) in the year ended March 2019, show corporate filings.
But, in part due to the company’s actions and in part due to a regulatory environment looking to crack down on big tech, the company’s rise in India coincided with several run-ins with the government.
For instance, on 10 September 2020, the Delhi government issued a terse letter to Mohan. He was summoned by the Delhi Assembly’s peace and harmony committee headed by the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lawmaker Raghav Chaddha. The government had allegedly received complaints complaints Hindustan Times Facebook played a role in fuelling riots, says Delhi panel Read more that provocative content shared on Meta’s various platforms had played a role in inciting communal riots that left 53 dead and several hundred injured in the national capital in February of that year.
Though the summons was addressed directly to Mohan, another senior official from Meta responded three days later. A lot ensued, but the highest-ranking executive of the social-media giant in the country had managed to sidestep the directive of a state assembly. Even so, Mohan’s tenure was defined by striking a balance between helping Meta stand its ground and keeping the government happy.
Before Mohan, there was a perception in the central and state governments, including some ministers—as seen in their statements—that Facebook was not responsive on legitimate issues, a person close to Meta’s India operations told The Ken.