Posts Tagged ‘Mukesh Ambani’

POLL: Have Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis let India down?

17 October 2013

Hell hath no fury than an industrialist scorned. The naming of Kumar Mangalam Birla, the youthful chief of the Aditya Birla group, in the 14th first information report (FIR) filed by the central bureau of investigation (CBI) in the coal allocation scam, has set the cat among the pigeons of India’s business class, which suddenly cannot decide whether to run or to hide.

Birla has only been named in the FIR—not arrested, not convicted, not jailed. But from HDFC’s Deepak Parekh downwards, everybody who is somebody in Bombay is behaving as if the skies have fallen down and giving certificates of good conduct to the Hindalco chairman, whose company is accused of garnering a 15% stake meant for public sector undertakings.

Birla is, of course, only the latest businessman in a scam under the cavernous nose of the Congress-led UPA.

Before him, there was Naveen Jindal, the tricolour-waving head honcho of Jindal Steel, who is also a Congress member of Parliament, also in the coal scam. Before him, there was Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani and Sunil Mittal and the Ruias of Essar and the Khaitans in the 2G scam.Before (and after) them, there was (and there is) Mukesh Ambani in the KG Basin ripoff. Add to that a Keshub Mahindra of Union Carbide, and you have the who’s who of South Bombay.

Considering that most of them are involved in allegations of usurping natural resources (spectrum, coal, gas), the question to ask is: have our industrialists and businessmen, who otherwise paint themselves as the heartbeat of the nation, let the country down with their greed and avarice? Do they even have the locus standi to talk of “policy paralysis”, when they have their hand in the till, and how?

Will TV news channels show Kejriwal ‘live’ again?

10 January 2013

ambani_keriwal_0111

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, and India’s most powerful business house, Reliance Industries, are believed to have served a legal notice on several TV news channels for airing anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal‘s allegations against them in October and November last year.

However, it is not known if Kejriwal, a former IRS officer, and his advocate-partner, Prashant Bhushan, have heard from RIL’s lawyers on the charges made by them at the  press conferences which were covered “live” by the TV channels with accompanying commentary.

It is also unclear if  newspapers which reported Kejriwal’s allegations of Ambani’s Swiss bank accounts and hanky-panky in the Krishna-Godavari basin by RIL have attracted similar legal attention from the less-litigious of the two Ambani brothers.

In the seven-page legal notice shot off in the middle of December 2012, Mukesh Ambani and RIL have demanded “a retraction and an unconditional apology in the form approved and acceptable to our clients” within three days from the receipt of the notice.

The notices have been served by the Bombay legal firm, A.S. Dayal & Associates.

***

Besides accusing the channels of “deliberately and recklessly” airing “false and defamatory statements” with an intent to “defame our clients and bring them into disrepute”, the legal notice makes the following points:

# “Your TV Channel provided a platform and instrumentality for wide dissemination of the false and defamatory statements and allegations made at the said press conference.”

# “Live telecast of these press conferences amounts to permanent publication of defamatory material relating to our client by you.”

# “Each of the two press conferences were telecast live without making any attempt to verify the truth or veracity of the statements and allegations being made during the press conference.”

# “Apart from having telecast the press conferences live, Your TV Channel  in the course of several television programmes and televised debates that followed after the said press conferences, continued to telecast, transmit and retransmit the defamatory footage of the press conferences.”

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More ominously, the Ambani-RIL notice reminds the channels:

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that Your TV Channel is bound by the Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking from India dated 5th December 2011, issued by the ministry of information & broadcasting, government of India.

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that since Your TV Channel is a news and current affairs TV Channel, the provisions of the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines apply to Your TV Channel, which inter alia provide that a Company, like Your TV Channel, which runs a news and current affairs TV channel, is obliged to comply with the Programme Code as laid down in the Cable Television Network (Regulations) Act, 1995, and the Rules framed thereunder.

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that in telecasting the aforesaid press conferences and repeating the false and defamatory material relating to our clients in the manner aforesaid Your TV Channel is in complete violation of the said Uplinking Guidelines, and the said Downlinking Guidelines as also in complete and material breach of the Programme Code prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules.”

***

The RIL legal notice brings to question the wisdom of broadcasting “live” Kejriwal’s near-weekly press conferences towards the end of last year, sans any filters or fetters.

On the other hand, the authoritarian tone of the legal notice—reminding the recipients of uplinking and downlinking norms—throws light on the egg-shells on which private TV stations are walking in the “free” Republic.

The legal notice also swings the spotlight on big business ownership of and shadow over the media, especially when it is alleged to have both the main political parties, the Congress and BJP, in its pocket.

For the record, RIL is in the media business too. Both CNN-IBN and IBN7 are part of the Reliance stable following a controversial and circuitous takeover at the turn of 2012 that now has earned the OK of the competition commission of India (CCI).

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Photograph: courtesy IBN Live

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Also read: ‘RIL has no direct stake in media companies’

Mint says SEBI looking into RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal

Rajya Sabha TV tears into RIL-Network18-ETV deal

Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

CHURUMURI POLL: Does Mukesh Ambani run India?

31 October 2012

Long years ago, when Doordarshan was the only TV option for the mango people, the weekly serial was the sole form of entertainment in the back of beyond. Each evening, thirsty masses waited with bated breath for what Hum Log and  Khandaan, Ados Pados and Jaane bhi do yaaro would throw up that week.

That done, the waiting would begin again.

In the age of 24×7 news television, editors and journalists appear to have outsourced one hour of each week to Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan to allow them to air their libel-laden soap opera.

One week, they show the wheeling-dealing of Sonia Gandhi‘s son-in-law Robert Vadra; another week it is Atal Bihari Vajpayee‘s son in-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya. One week, it is Salman Khurshid, another week it is Nitin Gadkari. One week, it is DLF, another week it is Reliance Industries.

And so it is, this Wednesday evening, when the producer-director duo behind India Against Corruption have merrily stated that it is RIL’s Mukesh Ambani, not Manmohan Singh, who is running the country. Using the cabinet reshuffle, in which the oil and petroleum minister S. Jaipal Reddy was shunted out to the lesser science and technology ministry, as the peg, the two have alleged:

# Reliance’s arm-twisting ways have caused a massive loss to the nation. Reliance has promised to deliver cheap gas for 17 years, but it has never delivered…

# Reliance has the contract to extract oil from KG Basin. Under an agreement of 2009 with the government, they are supposed to sell gas at $ 4.2 per mmBTU upto 31 March 2014. Midway now, RIL is demanding that the price be increased to $ 14.2 per mmBTU. Jaipal Reddy resisted that and he was thrown out…

# The then petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was replaced and Murli Deora was brought in to benefit RIL. Pranab Mukherjee gave undue benefit of Rs 8000 crore to RIL in 2007. Now, Jaipal Reddy has been ousted for objecting to raising RIL’s demand to raise gas prices.”

“The government is succumbing to the illegitimate demands of RIL. Even the PM was very sympathetic to RIL. And as a result, Reliance has gained more than Rs 1 lakh crore, that the country lost.”

Question: Are Kejriwal-Bhushan right? Do Mukesh Ambani and Reliance run the country?

Also read: Rajya Sabha TV tears into RIL-Network18-ETV deal

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

Should Sachin Tendulkar accept RS seat offer?

26 April 2012

There is never a dull moment in the circus that is the Indian political league. As if the indecent clamour for a Bharat Ratna to be bestowed upon him wasn’t enough, the word is that the Union home ministry has recommended that Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar be nominated to the upper house of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha.

Coming as it does the very day Sachin and his wife, Anjali Tendulkar, called upon the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, in the company of the other IPL chief, Rajeev Shukla, the move has necessarily led to some tongues wagging.

Like, is a battered government trying to distract attention from the scams and scandals? Like, is the beleagurered Congress trying to shine in the reflected glory of a sterling cricketer? Like is the Mukesh Ambani hold on the Mumai Indian becoming all too clear? Etcetera.

Sachin hasn’t said yes or no, but obviously smoke like this doesn’t emanate without some fire somewhere. Simple question: does Sachin deserve the “offer”? Should he accept it? Will he be useful in the “house of elders” or will he just end up being used by politicians and political parties? And what can the BJP to match this?

Also read: Why Sachin should not get Bharat Ratna now

A true great, but a Mysore University doctorate?

One rule for ordinary Indians, another for SRK?

19 April 2012

The temporary detention of questioning of the actor Shah Rukh Khan by immigration authorities in the United States has, as is usual, created a small tsunami in the media tea cup. Everybody went into a frenzy and the external affairs minister S.M. Krishna adjusted his wig and demanded an apology.

Shashi Baliga has some searching questions in The Hindu Business Line:

“Why should US Immigration treat Shah Rukh or any other star or celebrity differently from you and me? And why should the MEA demand an apology in this case and not on behalf of thousands of other Indians who are similarly singled out?

“News is that Shah Rukh is seething at the “humiliation”, especially since the others travelling with him — among them industrialist Mukesh Ambani‘s wife Nita Ambani, who was accompanying him to Yale — were cleared without a problem.

“Would it help him to know that thousands of other Indians have undergone a similar experience?

“Actor Irrfan Khan, who is actually more widely recognised in the US because of his many roles in Hollywood movies, has been detained more than once because of his surname. Irrfan has taken it in his stride, Shah Rukh decided to talk about it.

“Because that is Shah Rukh’s I-take-things-head-on style.

“And because superstars don’t take kindly to obstructions in their path.

“Film stars are our new royalty; they are used to sweeping grandly through doors held open for them, protected by their mobile entourage, much like the maharajas of old. They are accustomed to people fawning over them, fighting to offer them gifts, begging for an audience in the manner maharajahs’ subjects used to. Many of their nicknames are telling — King Khan and Badshah of Bollywood for Shah Rukh, Shahenshah for Amitabh Bachchan.

“They live life king-like, if not king-size. Many of us travelling on an Indian passport have been asked to undergo a body scan or an extra search at airports abroad. Problem is, here in apna Bharat, there is so much bowing and scraping before ‘big names’ who get so accustomed to rules being bent or at least disregarded for them that they expect the same everywhere else.”

Read the full article: Mujhe pehachano, mein hoon Don

When Mukesh Ambani writes the media’s cheques

15 January 2012

The fears over what happens when a big business house with deep pockets and political influence across parties funds a big media house to legitimise its hitherto-hidden media interests are coming true even before the controversial Reliance Industries -Network18/TV18-Eenadu Television deal can be inked.

Obviously, the political class is silent. Obviously, TV18’s competitors won’t touch the story for reasons not difficult to imagine. Obviously, The Hindu won’t even publish a media column for reasons not difficult to fantasise.

But there has been no serious discussion of the implications of the deal on the media or on democracy in the mainstream media. Not on any of Network18’s usually high-decibel shows since the tie-up was announced on 3 January 2012. Not even on Karan Thapar‘s media show on CNN-IBNThe Last Word.

Print media coverage too has at best been sketchy. Even the newspapers and newsmagazines which have attempted to probe the complexities of the menage-a-troisThe Economic Times and The Indian ExpressOutlookand India Today, have barely managed to go beyond the numbers into the nuance.

Rajya Sabha TV, the newly launched television channel of the upper house of Parliament, has filled the breach somewhat with a no-holds barred discussion on the subject.

Anchored by Girish Nikam, a former Eenadu reporter who wrote five years ago on Ramoji Rao‘s travails, the RSTV debate flags all the important issues raised by the deal and underlines the role public service television can play in the service of the public when the corporate media gives up—or gives in.

Some of the comments made by three of the four participants on The Big Picture:

S. Nihal Singh, former editor of The Statesman: “My first reaction [on reading of the deal] was that it was time for India to have a really good anti-monopoly law for media, which is the norm in all democratic countries in the world, including the most advanced….

“The press council of India is totally dysfunctional because of the new chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who is baiting the media, who doesn’t believe in conversing with the media, or exchanging views with the media.”

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Madhu Trehan, founder-editor of India Today and director, content, of the soon-to-be-launched media site, News Laundry: “It need not have happened if the government and corporates were more alert. One person owns much too much….

“Already every policy is decided by corporates as the 2G tapes (of Niira Radia) show. Not only is it dangerous that Mukesh Ambani will be deciding what policy will be decided, as you know has happened in the past, but he will also decide whether we can talk about it, or criticise it or expose it….

“Why is Reliance interested in media? It is not for money; it is obviously for influence. Rupert Murdoch was endorsing PMs and Presidents in three continents. Now we have the richest man in the country owning the largest network. Yes, there is an independent trust, but I don’t believe that. The purpose is to control the media. You are influencing policy, you are influencing how the government decides, and now you are going to decide how the people will hear about about you and the government….

“When a politician or a government spokesman speaks, we don’t believe them, but when somebody like Rajdeep Sardesai or Sagarika Ghose speaks, or anyone at IBN7 or TV18 comes on, we presume we should believe them. Now there is a big question mark [when RIL has indirect control over CNN-IBN]….

“In a deal of this size we are looking at very subtle plants of stories, subtle angles, subtly putting things in a certain way so that people think along in a certain way for a particular way. I don’t know if anyone can shut the door. It’s too late.”

***

Dilip Cherian, former editor Business India, head Perfect Relations: “Globally we have seen when big capital enters media, that is exactly what we are about to replicate for ourselves.

“Oligopolistic tendencies are visible in global media today, whether it is Silvio Berlusconi or Rupert Murdoch, the fact is they exercise humongous influence not on media but politics. Are we headed down the same road? At this time, the answer seems to be yes. Is it good? The universal answer from the question is that it isn’t,  not just because it affects the quality of news but because it affects the quality of politics….

“The entry of big capital is not new or news. What has happened in this case is a big distinction between foreign investment and domestic. Because of 4G, because the same business house owns the pipe, owns the content, there could also be another issue of monopoly. If I were the owner, I would say there needs to be a publicly visible ombudsmanship [to dispel the doubts]….

“There is room for concern, there is room for elements of self-rgulation. As a country we are not able to legislate for two reasons. One because of the influence business houses have on policy making. And two, when you bring in legislation (on regulation) up, the other group that is affected are politicians who own media houses of their own. You are talking about now a coalition of forces which the public is incapable of handling. You won’t see Parliament doing the kind of regulation they should, in an open manner, because there are interests on all sides.”

* Disclosures apply

Also readWill RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

The curious case of Mukesh Ambani & Raghav Bahl

9 January 2012

PRITAM SENGUPTA in New Delhi and KEERTHI PRATIPATI in Hyderabad write: Media criticism in India, especially in the so-called mainstream media, has never been much to write home about.

Operating on the principle that writing on another media house or media professional means exposing yourself to the same danger in the future, proprietors, promoters and editors—most of whom have plenty to hide—are wary of taking on their colleagues, competitors and compatriots.

That risk-averse attitude amounting to a mutually agreed ceasefire pretty much explains why the biggest media deal of the decade—Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) funding Network 18/ TV 18 group to pick up ETV—has been reported with about as much excitement as a weather report.

That the newspaper which issues P. Sainath‘s monthly cheque, The Hindu, declined to publish media critic Sevanti Ninan‘s fortnightly column on market rumours about the impending deal (without telling readers why) provides a chilling preview of what lies in store as the shadow of corporates lengthens over the media.

In 2008, New York Times‘ columnist Anand Giridharadas wrote of why the Indian media does not take on the Ambanis of Reliance Industries in an article titled “Indian to the core, and an oligarch“.

“A prominent Indian editor, formerly of The Times of India, who requested anonymity because of concerns about upsetting Mr Ambani, says Reliance maintains good relationships with newspaper owners; editors, in turn, fear investigating it too closely.

“I don’t think anyone else comes close to it,” the editor said of Reliance’s sway. “I don’t think anyone is able to work the system as they can.”

***

First things first, the RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV wedding is an unlikely menage-a-trois.

Reliance Industries Limited is a behemoth built by Dhirubhai Ambani and his sons Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani using a maze of companies and subsidiaries built on a heady cocktail of mergers and demergers, using shares, debentures, bonuses and other tricks in the accounting book—and many beyond it.

The only known interest of the Ambanis in the media before this deal was when they bought a Bombay business weekly called Commerce and turned into the daily Business & Political Observer (BPO) to match the weekly offering, The Sunday Observer, which they had acquired from Jaico Publishing.

(Top business commentators like John Elliott and Sucheta Dalal have alluded to a blog item to convey that Mukesh Ambani’s media interest goes beyond the recent announcement.)

Anyway, BPO, launched under the editorship of Prem Shankar Jha, was long in coming unlike typical Reliance projects. Suffice it to say that in 1991, when India was at the cusp of pathbreaking reforms, some of India’s biggest names in business journalism were producing dummy editions of BPO.

The Ambani publications were under the gaze of the more media-savvy younger brother, Anil Ambani, who operated with R.K. Mishra, the late editor of The Patriot, as chairman of the editorial board. The Observer group shuttered before the beginning of the new millennium.

As Mani Ratnam‘s film Guru based on Sydney Morning Herald foreign editor Hamish McDonald‘s book The Polyester Prince makes clear, the Ambanis have always cultivated friends across the political divide, but they have been identified with the Congress more than the BJP.

Raghav Bahl‘s Network18/TV18 is in some senses an ideal fit for RIL.

Till its latest cleanup came about a year and a half ago, it was difficult to understand which of its myriad companies and subsidiaries came under which arm. It too has friends on either side, but suffice it to say, CNN-IBN‘s decision not to run the cash-for-votes sting operation in July 2008 revealed where its political predilections lay.

Eenadu and ETV, on the other hand, is a long, different story.

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The ETV network of channels was launched by Ramoji Rao, the founder of the Telugu daily Eenadu. Rao has many claims to fame (including launching Priya pickles), but he is chiefly known as the media baron behind the transformation of the Telugu film star N.T. Rama Rao into a weighty non-Congress politician.

Rao and his men are known to have crafted speeches that tapped into dormant Telugu pride for the politically naive NTR. The massive media buildup in Eenadu—Ramoji Rao pioneered multi-edition newspapers with localised supplements—saw NTR become the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh just nine months after launching the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982.

Two years later, when NTR was removed from office by a pliant governor (Ram Lal) working at the behest of Indira Gandhi‘s rampaging government, Ramoji Rao played a key role in protecting the numbers of TDP MLAs by having them packed off to Bangalore and Mysore, and building public opinion through his newspapers.

When NTR’s son-in-law N. Chandrababu Naidu walked out of TDP to “save” TDP, Ramoji Rao backed Naidu and played a hand in his ascension as CM. Thus, Ramoji Rao galvanised non-Congress forces in the South leading to the creation of the National Front, which installed V.P. Singh as PM in 1989 after the Bofors scandal claimed Rajiv Gandhi.

In 2006, Ramoji Rao placed his political leaning on record:

“I submit that until 1983 the Congress was running the State in an unchallenged and unilateral manner for the past 30 years. The Congress party became a threat to democracy and in view of the single party and individual rule by Indira Congress, the opposition in the state was in emaciated condition. It has been reduced to the status of a nominal entity. The dictatorial rule of the Congress proceeding without any hindrance. I submit that as the opposition parties were weak and were in helpless situation where they were unable to do any thing in spite of the misrule by the ruling party, Eenadu played the role of opposition. I submit that in the elections of the State Assembly held in 1983, the Congress for the first time did not secure a majority in the elections and lost the power to the newly formed Telugu Desam Party. I submit that on the day of poling i.e. January 5, 1983, I issued a signed editorial on the front page of Eenadu supporting the manifesto of Telugu Desam Party and calling on the electorate to vote for Telugu Desam Party giving cogent reasons for the stance taken by me.”

In short, the marriage between RIL-Network18/TV18 and Ramoji Rao is one between a largely pro-Congress duo and a distinctly non-Congress one.

***

Indeed, Ramoji Rao’s troubles that has resulted in substantial sections of his ETV network getting out of his grasp and into RIL’s, are largely because of his consistently anti-Congress stance, which gained an added edge in 2005 when the Congress under Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy (YSR) trumped the TDP under Chandrababu Naidu in the assembly elections.

Reported The Telegraph:

A slew of news reports in Eenadu and programmes on ETV since 2005 have accused Congress ministers, politicians and senior government officials of corruption and hanky panky. One report, for instance, debunked the official claim that the number of suicides by farmers had dropped. Another attacked construction by Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, the chief minister’s brother, on disputed land. A third said that Eenadu had discovered, based on a survey, that voter lists for elections for local bodies had omitted the names of opposition party sympathisers.

It didn’t take long for YSR to hit back.

It was a two-pronged attack: his son Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy launched a project to own launch his own newspaper and newschannel house to take on the might of Eenadu and ETV. Simultaneously, a Congress MP from Rajahmundry attacked Ramoji Rao where it hurt most: his finances.

Arun Kumar Vundavalli, the MP, revealed that Rao’s Margadarsi Financiers had started dilly-dallying about repaying depositors, even after their deposit period had expired. Kumar showed that Margadarsi Financiers—a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) company, of which the karta was Ramoji Rao—had collected deposits from the public, although a 1997 RBI law forbade HUFs from doing so.

Margadarsi Financiers owned a 95% stake in Ushodaya Enterprises, Ramoji Rao’s company which owned Eenadu and ETV.

A one-man committee of enquiry constituted by the Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy government revealed that Rs 2,600 crore of money was collected from the public in violation of RBI norms. Although his companies were not in great shape, Ramoji Rao assured the Andhra Pradesh high court that he would repay the full amount of Rs 2,600 crore due to the depositors.

Enter Blackstone.

In January 2007, the world’s largest private equity player indicated that it wanted to pick up 26% in Ushodaya Enterprises group for Rs 1,217 crore. At the time, it was reported to be India’s single largest foreign direct investment (FDI) in the print media.

The Blackstone offer placed the value of Ramoji Rao’s company at Rs 4,470 crore.

But the FDI proposal got stuck in the I&B ministry for months, allegedly at the behest of Vundavalli, who raised a variety of concerns over the Blackstone-Eenadu deal. In January 2008, when the clearance for the Blackstone investment was still not coming, Mint asked:

“Does the promoter of an Indian company, who is selling a stake in his family’s media firm to a foreign investor, have the right to do what he wants with that money, in this particular case, pay off liabilities of another company that his family separately also owns?….”

“FIPB records then show that the finance ministry, specifically citing Vundavalli’s claims, ‘has observed that prima facie, it appears that the purpose of securing funds from M/s Blackstone is not for advancing the business of Ushodaya Enterprises Ltd, but for repaying the deposits taken by M/s Margadarsi Financiers.”

When the Blackstone deal did not materialise, Nimesh Kampani of JM Financial stepped in as Ramoji Rao’s white knight although, as Sucheta Dalal writes, Kampani was never known to have any interest in the media except in deal-making.

According to VC Circle, Kampani picked up 21% of Ushodaya Enterprises for Rs 1,424 crore, which valued the company at Rs 6,780 crore, or over 50 per cent more than what Blackstone was willing to accept.

“The first public report of Kampani’s investment came in early February 2008, or around 10 days after stock markets crashed globally.”

Now, YSR got after Kampani.

Andhra Pradesh police issued a “look-out” notice for Kampani. Nagarjuna Finance, of which Kampani had been director, had allegedly defrauded depositors. Although Kampani had resigned from the independent directorship of the company nine years earlier, it was a sufficient handle to beat him with.

For months, Kampani had to stay out of India, fearing arrest. It was only after his bete noire YSR met with a bloody death in a helicopter crash in September 2009 that Kampani could return home. In May 2010, rumours surfaced of Mukesh Ambani buying up JM Financial but they soon fizzled out.

Shortly before buying into ETV, Kampani had recently sold his stake in a joint venture with Morgan Stanley to his foreign partner for $440 million and had the cash. The Margadarsi bailout, it was assumed, was in his personal capacity. It took a petition in 2011 filed by YSR’s widow seeking an inquiry into Chandrababu Naidu’s assets assets for the penny to drop.

Enter RIL.

YSR’s widow, Y.S. Vijayalakshmi, an MLA, alleged that when gas reserves were found in the Krishna Godavari basin in Andhra Pradesh in 2002, the Chandrababu Naidu government wilfully surrendered its right over the discovery in favour of Reliance, “while allowing Naidu’s close associate Ramoji Rao to be the vehicle of the quid pro quo.” (page 32)

“In consideration for the favour done by the Respondent No. 8 (Chandrababu Naidu) in allowing the State’s KG basin claim to be brushed under the carpet, the Reliance group facilitated the payout of Ramoji Rao’s debts to his depositors. This was carried out through known associates and friends of Mukesh Ambani.

“Two of these known associates of Ambani and the Reliance Group are Nimesh Kampani (of JM Financial) and Vinay Chajlani (of Nai Duniya).

“Kampani extended himself in ensuring that Ramoji Rao would be bailed out. Within a short span of 37 days between December 2007 and January 2008, six “shell companies” were floated on three addresses, which are shown as Sriram Mills Compound, Worli, which is the official address of Reliance Industries Limited. Reliance diverted Rs 2,604 crores of its shareholders money through the shell companies to M/s Kampani’s Equator Trading India Limited and Chajlani’s Anu Trading.”

In other words, RIL’s involvement in Eenadu through Kampani became known only recently in response to Vijayalakshmi’s petition, but it was market gossip for quite a while.

T.N. Ninan, the chairman of Business Standard and the president of the editors’ guild of India, wrote in a column in January 2011:

“If reports in Jagan Reddy’s Saakshi newspaper are to be believed, Mukesh Ambani is a behind-the-scenes investor in Eenadu, the leading Telugu daily.”

Vijayalakshmi’s 2011 petition makes several serious allegations.

That Ramoji Rao entered into the deal with Kampani’s Equator just 23 days after it was registered although it had no known expertise or business; that Ushodaya sold Rs 100 shares to Equator at a premium of Rs 5,28,630 per share; and that Ushodaya’s valuation had been pumped up by Rs 1,200 crore by its claims over a movie library.

Vijayalakshmi’s petition concluded:

“The interest shown by Reliance group in coming to the rescue of Ushodaya Enterprises headed by Ramoji Rao is clearly in defiance of any prudent profit-based corporate entity (since) Reliance does not gain any returns by virtue of that investment.”

***

It is this RIL baby that is now in Network18/TV18’s lap.

The timing of the RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal also hides a small story.

It comes when the probe into the assets of Naidu and his associates (including Ramoji Rao) has moved from the High Court to the Supreme Court. It comes when a parallel probe into Vijayalakshmi’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy’s assets has entered a new and critical phase. It comes when the KG basin gas controversy is heating up. And, above all, it comes when 2014 is looming into the calendar.

Several questions emerge from this deal which has politics, business and media in varying measures:

1) What does it mean for Indian democracy when India’s richest businessman becomes India’s biggest media baron with control over at least two dozen English and regional news and business channels?

2) What kind of control will Mukesh Ambani have over Raghav Bahl’s Network18/TV18 when and if RIL’s optionally convertible debentures (OCDs) are turned into equity?

3) What kind of due diligence did the financially troubled Network18/TV18 do on the Kampani-Ambani investment in ETV before agreeing to pick up RIL’s stake for Rs 2,100 crore?

4) How will CNBC-TV18, which incidentally broke the news of the split among the Ambani brothers in 2005, report news of India’s biggest company (or its political and other benefactors) now that it is indirectly going to be owned by it?

5) Is there a case for alarm when one man has a direct and indirect stamp over three of the five major English news channels (CNN-IBN, NewsX and NDTV 24×7), three business channels (CNBC-TV18, IBN Awaaz, NDTV Profit), and at least five Hindi news channels?

6) Do Raghav Bahl and team who ran a handful of channels heavily into debt, have the expertise to run two dozen or more channels, especially in the language space where there are bigger players like Star and Zee?

7) Is the ETV network really worth so much, especially when Ushodaya’s most profitable parts, Eenadu and Priya Foods, are out of it? Or is RIL using Network18/TV18’s plight to turn a bad asset into a good one?

8) Is RIL really tying with Network18/TV18 with 4G in mind, or is this just spin to push an audacious deal past market regulators such as SEBI and the Competition Commission of India (CCI)?

9) How immune are Mukesh Ambani and Raghav Bahl from political forces hoping to use the combined clout of RIL-Network18/TV18 to blunt negative coverage ahead of the 2014 general elections?

10) And have Network18/TV18 investors got a fair deal?

***

Infographic: courtesy Outlook

Also read: The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

Mukesh Ambani’s salute to the poor & homeless

24 May 2011

As if to underline the adage that you should never believe something until it is officially denied, Ratan Tata, the chairman of the eponymous corporate behemoth, has officially denied that he objected to Mukesh Ambani‘s opulence in building a 27-storey home in an interview with The Times, London.

Most newspapers have dutifully carried Tata’s denial largely because Tata has developed a strange sensitivity toward criticism in the post-2G scam phase*. Alone among the lot, Business Standard has had the gumption to ask the simple question: why deny something that most people will wholeheartedly agree with?

“Ratan Tata’s non-statement on Mukesh Ambani’s opulent lifestyle will get a lot of heads nodding in agreement. Ambani makes a lot of money from his business and he is entitled to spend it as he sees fit. Even so, there is something curiously insensitive to splurging on an over-the-top, 27-storey home that has no redeeming architectural qualities, in a country in which many Indians are homeless— even in Mumbai.

“To be sure, Ambani is unlikely to have solved India’s poverty problem if he hadn’t built the tower on land once used to run an orphanage. Still, as Tata suggested, he could well have spent it to mitigate the hardship of the poor. Two billion dollars, the reported construction cost for Antilla, could build several decent apartments for slum-dwellers being relocated from Dharavi, for instance.

“Tata is much less wealthy and lives a life that is luxurious by most Indian standards. But he practises a dignified restraint and is backed by a level of welfare spending that his fellow industrialists would do well to follow. Tata, in sum, should own up to what he did not say.”

* Disclosures apply

Read the full editorial: Quote, unquote

***

Also read: Madness, megalomania or hard-earned fruits?

One question I’m dying to ask Mukesh Ambani

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

Ratan Tata: “Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed”

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, NDTV & Prannoy Roy

Has Ratan Tata ruined the Tata brand image?

29 November 2010

Although it has a finger in every pie, the Tata group has enjoyed a sterling reputation as a cut above the rest. Unlike the Ambanis and Birlas and everybody else, the group boasts of a “clean and incorruptible” image. Unlike others, it has been known to do things differently, keeping the “community” at the core.

Is that well-earned image in danger, judging from a bunch of recent incidents? And as he prepares to step into the shadows, having turned a quiet Parsi outfit into a global conquistador, will Ratan Tata—under whose leadership the revenue of the Tata group has gone up 40 times—go down as the dikra who messed with the holy grail?

For starters, the Tata group is smack bang in the middle of the Rs 173,000 crore 2G spectrum allocation scam. The tapped conversations of Ratan Tata’s chief lobbyist, Niira Radia, reveal how a gang of politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, and journalists re-inserted the tainted A. Raja into Manmohan Singh‘s cabinet in 2009.

# One key conversation (on 13 June 2009) between Radia and DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi‘s third wife Rajathiammal matches with the contents of a set of documents that were doing the rounds earlier this year, that revealed that the Tatas (through their subsidiary Voltas) had agreed to build a building in Madras, apparently as a payoff to DMK for keeping Dayanidhi Maran out of the telecom ministry.

# And, for another, the Tatas come out poorly in a Radia conversation that reveals that former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda had demanded Rs 180 crore for a Tatas’ mining lease to be extended. Radia gets the lease extended through the governor Syed Sibte Razi, and she is rewarded a “success fee” besides a Rs 1 crore reward to her team.

In conversations with Radia ranging from the cute to the colourful, Ratan Tata reveals more than just passing interest in the retention of A. Raja in the telecom portfolio. “I’m surprised that Raja after all that you supposedly did for him is playing this game,” he says in one conversation. “I guess the only concern I have is that Maran is going hammer and tongs for Raja. And I hope Raja doesn’t trip or slip or…”

These one-liners only add grist to a delicious rumour, twice repeated, that Ratan Tata actually wrote a hand-written letter to Karunanidhi on Raja’s “rational, fair and action-oriented leadership” in December 2007. To now see the same Ratan Tata say that if the government did not step in and uphold the rule of law, the environment of scandals could see India slide into becoming a “banana republic” and to see that he is thinking of invoking the right to privacy and moving the Supreme Court is revealing in a Freudian sort of way.

Obviously, doing business in India and growing at the kind of rate the Tatas have, is not a walk in the park. Equally obviously, the Radia conversations do not represent the full story. Still, have the tapes removed the halo from around the head of the Tatas? Is Ratan Tata right in seeking shelter under right to privacy, or is he trying to hide more dirt from coming out? And has Ratan Tata proved no different from his much-reviled peers?

The most noise usually comes from the people who have the most to hide.

Also read: Tatas, turtles and corporate social responsibility

External reading: The Niira Radia tapes and transcripts

What what can can Sri Sri tell tell IITians IITians?

27 October 2010

PanIIT, a conglomeration of alumni of the seven Indian Institutes of Technology, is to hold its 2010 conclave from  October 29-31 in New Delhi. The focal theme of the three-day meet is “Sustainable Transformation: Our New India“.

“Participants would have the unique opportunity to tap into the experience of globally recognised thought leaders, to learn from peers in a collaborative learning environment…,” reads the mission statement.

Among the globally recognised thought leaders providing gyan at the gab-fest are the likes of economist Jeffrey Sachs, technologist Nandan Nilekani and columnist Thomas L. Friedman.

And “India’s future Nobel laureate“, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

In session “S20″, on the concluding day of the conclave, “Mr Shankar” is expected to throw kindly light between 10.45 and 11.30 am. Not all IITians are enthused by the thought. Below is the full text of a press release issued by “PanIIT Ravi Shankar Protest Committee”:

***

The mantra of PanIIT conclave for this year is “Sustainable Transformation: our new India”.

Will Ravi Shankar be able to help us in being a role model in achieving this objective? Even a cursory glance at his achievement sans all the spin by the media will show how IIT alumni will be totally misled and get the wrong message.

PanIIT conclave is an opportunity to send strong messages by inviting those leaders who have been successful in projecting good values. Ravi Shankar has certainly been a superb salesman in marketing sudarshan kriya. His Art of Living foundation has been successful in earning huge profits while being a charitable organization.

Unfortunately, the values represented by his activities are not the ones for us to emulate. Especially when corruption is the top agenda item in India preventing the proper development of India, should we invite some one like Ravi Shankar?

Would we invite Ambani brothers despite their enormous wealth to give a talk on values and sustainability?

In one of the satsangs, when he was asked about global warming and climate change, Ravi Shankar seriously compared it to the Y2K problem, and how Y2K was not a problem and so also global warming. Either he was not aware of the enormous efforts by the world to avoid Y2K or he gave a wrong analogy.

When he was asked how to solve Kashmir problem, his “insightful” comment was that youth should get involved. Was it supposed to be a joke?

While the web sites of AOL give all the information about how to enroll for basic and advanced courses, how he has been involved in solving all the world problems like Iraq, Kashmir, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, there is no information on what happens to millions it has earned or the assets it has accumulated over the years.

It is true AOL does help the poor, educate the needy and supports worth causes. So do many of our corrupt political leaders and unethical businessmen. Do such acts of goodwill wash their sins?

Any charitable organisation seeking donation is expected to be transparent and publish its accounts. Why has AOL not published them? Has it paid any income taxes on its earnings as any business activity would? What kind of values it transmits when there is no transparency?

It is possible to give a long list of reasons why inviting Ravi Shankar was a wrong decision. But the above short explanation should be more than adequate. Some of us protestors, even at the risk of being rude to an invited guest (we do feel guilty), wanted to send a message to organisers to be more vigilant in inviting the right kind of people for future conclaves. We also invite attendees even at this late stage to show our disappointment by not attending the event where Ravi Shankar would be speaking.

Suresh Adina, Convener, PanIIT Ravi Shankar Protest Committee

***

Also read: The the great great Sri Sri NGO NGO scam scam

For one godman & his devotees, ignorance is bliss

When a newspaper recites the Gita to a godman

CHURUMURI POLL: Target Sri Sri Ravi Shankar?

Dalits, Brahmins, Muslims and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

If Ambani, Tendulkar, Shah Rukh aren’t safe…?

2 February 2010

The overcooked chickens of divisive politics are coming home to roost on the streets of Bombay for the cooks, chefs and cleaners who were dishing it out for decades.

As Bal Thackeray‘s Shiv Sena mounts a “Mumbai for Maharashtrians” campaign, as Raj Thackeray says jobs should only be given to those who were born in that State”, urbs prima in Indus is being kickedwhere it hurts by those acting in the name of its sons and daughters, fathers and mothers.

With the Bihar elections around the corner, the “cultural organisation” RSS suddenly wakes up and says its cadres have been instructed to “protect” Hindi-speaking north Indians in Bombay. The RSS’ new sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat twirls his moustache to say “language, caste, sub-castes, groups, tribes can be different but all are sons of India”, hoping that nobody notices that he deftly, deviously left “religion” out of his list.

Suddenly, the new BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, whose party has been in bed with the Shiv Sena for nearly two decades, says he will speak to the RSS and make a statement. And then, because the Bihar elections (where the party is in bed with the JD(U)) are around the corner, finds the strength to say “the strength of India’s unity in diversity is achieved only when all identities converge into a larger national identity of Indianness”.

Meanwhile, the Congress whose chief minister Ashok Chavan statement on the domicile status of taxi drivers kicked off the latest round of pathetic parochialism, finds some voice. Home minister P. Chidambaram calls “Mumbai for Maharashtrians” a pernicious theory. Rahul Gandhi declares India is for Indians.

But ponder this:  if the three biggest icons of Indian industry, sport and cinema—Mukesh Ambani, Sachin Tendulkar and Shah Rukh Khan—aren’t safe from the provincial parasites pillaging into the carcass of a once-great cosmopolis, can a poor pani puri seller from Patna (or Chennapatna) be?

Cartoons: courtesy Prasad Radhakrishnan/ Mail Today and E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Free to work anywhere?

Is the Indian Republic, at 60, crumbling?

A video strictly not for Bhau Raj Thackeray’s eyes

27 January 2010

On the Zee Marathi show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Tamilian Abhilasha Chellam sings Aata vajle ki bara from the Marathi movie Natrang.

***

Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Limited, at a book release in London:

“We are all Indians first. Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi belong to all Indians. That is the reality…. India’s corporate world has moved away from ‘licence raj’ after economic liberalisation, Mumbai’s poor taxi-wallah is still dealing with licence raj.”

Also read: Non-Maharashtrians vie for top prize in Marathi music show

CHURUMURI POLL: Free to work anywhere?

The Top-10 austerity moves India wants to hear

16 September 2009

nanyantara

The Bogus Austerity Drama (BAD) has so far been confined to a) S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor moving out of their five-star Rs 1.5 lakh-a-day suites, b) Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee travelling economy class, c) Rahul Gandhi taking the Shatabdi, and d) a flood of drought-inspired sanctimony all over.

But the dictionary tells us that austerity is not just about hotel rooms and flight tickets. And it can’t just be about the Congress and its leaders. In its truest form, austerity needs to be a pan-national phenomenon in which everybody, everywhere, does less more even if it costs more to do less.

As Sarojini Naidu is said to have remarked about Mahatma Gandhi: “It costs a lot to keep him poor.”

Here are the top-10 austerity claims we hope to hear soon.

***

modi1) Narendra Modi: “Bhaiyon aur behenon, thanks to the lafda, what you urban, English-wallahs call kerfuffle, over the abrupt termination of oxygen intake by Sohrabuddin and Ishrat Jahan, I promise Vibrant Gujarat will have fewer fake encounters to protect its asmita. Or your trishul back, sharpened.”

2) Mukesh Ambani: “Arre baba, if nimma Nandan Nilekani who is worth 1.3 billion dollars has to shift to Karnataka Bhavan as part of the austerity drive, you think I am so greedy as to not respect my neighbours wishes and knock out the bottom-two floors of my ready-to-occupy, 2 billion-dollar, 27-storey mansion?”

janardhan_karunakar_bro_200908103) B.S. Yediyurappa: “In the name of development and governance, as per the honourable wishes of our poojya former future prime minister, I will have one Reddy less breathing down my neck. And I will ask them to use a helicopter pool instead of flying into Bellary individually whenever they feel like eating biryani.”

4) Arundhati Roy: “Instead of 6,000 word essays which I impose on Indians twice a year, I will impose 3,000 word essays on Indians eight times in two years, which is the same thing, of course, so I will get the systems wallahs to reinsert the “Wordcount” button I had gotten removed. No wait, ‘gotten’ is American imperial English, the “Wordcount” button I had got removed.”

arun_shourie_illus_200909075) Arun Shourie: “Instead of a 5-part series on Alice in Blunderland, Humpty-Dumpty and Tarzan which even I don’t understand, I promise to write a one-part series which even you won’t understand, but you will be too ashamed to admit that you didn’t understand because I quoted the great ascetic Swami Vivekananda with Edward Rice Burroughs in all CAPS bold with triple asterisks***, footnotes¼ and accent gravuresˆ to leave you confused to the power of ∞.”

6) Nayantara: “Since the well-meaning folk at churumuri want the world to do “less more”, I promise to wear “more less” clothes in my next Telugu film, ‘Noovu isthe, nenu tees konta‘” so that there is more fabric left to cover the uncovered masses in drought-affected Andhra Pradesh.”

namitha-37) Namitha: “The men are going in for six-pack abs. The women are going in for size zero. You look at me (go on, look at me) and you tell me honestly where I should start to do my bit for the country, and I will dutifully oblige. Let’s make it a totally interactive exercise. After all, I was born in the vibrant state of Gujarat which produced the great Mahatma whose interactive programmes won us freedom.”

8) Sagarika Ghose: “I will reduce fazing the nation with my hi-decibel, St Stephen‘s rat-a-tat which even the class teachers of Ishan and Tarini are saying they can no longer comprehend anything because they don’t know where the main clause ends and where the subclause begins, especially when Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Gurudas Dasgupta are all trying to sneak in a word between the end of the second sentence and the beginning of the third one, by which time we have to go for a short commercial break, while you watch the lively website ibnlive.com, you keep on voting, while we keep on counting.”

9)Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Gurudas Dasgupta: “As part of the austerity drive, we promise to be a little less economical with the hair-splitting.”

KPN photo10) Ambarish: “I will take less, work more. I will take less, work more. I will work less, take more. I will work less, take more. I will take less, work more. I will take more, work less.”

Photographs: courtesy vinfindia.com, Karnataka Photo NewsOutlook, dailomo.com

‘Imagine what will happen to India if he leads’?

9 September 2009

unny

The astonishing part about the 2004 “encounter” that consumed 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan and three others is not that it has now been declared to be “fake” but that the police officials in “India’s best governed State” were so clumsy in their attempt to cook up evidence to curry favour with “The Other Great Debator“.

The police planted the AK-56 rifle on one of the four yet said one of the four was killed by an AK-56. There was no trace of gunpowder or ammunition on any of the four suspects. The name “Salim” had been scribbed in English on the back of a photo of a Pakistani. There was only an identity card on one of them. The police magically knew the code of the number lock that contained cash of Rs 2 lakh.

Etcetera.

And now, some short messages from our corporate sponsors:

Anil Ambani: “Now, imagine what will happen to the nation if he leads the nation.”

Mukesh Ambani: “If India has 10 Chief Ministers like him, we can overcome all challenges.”

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

CHURUMURI POLL: Good for them = Good for us?

17 January 2009

When General Motors president Charles Wilson was appointed secretary of defence by President Dwight David Eisenhower in the early 1950s, the possibility of conflict of interest was very real. Asked if he could make a decision adverse to the interests of GM, Wilson said he could not, but added he could not conceive of such a situation, “because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for GM and vice versa.” That statement has sinced morphed into “What’s good for GM is good for America.”

In a week when captains of Indian industry have plumped for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodar Modi as the next prime minister, it is worth asking: “Is what is good for Indian industrialists, good for India, too?”

# Airtel chief Sunil Mittal has said: “We have seen CEOs running good companies, but Modi is that successful CEO who runs an entire state. We need him in Delhi.”

# Anil Ambani of ADAG has said: “If one Dhirubhai Ambani could do so much just imagine what ten Dhirubhais could have done. For Modi, too, one can say the same thing. He is the next leader of India.”

While such a rousing endorsement must be sweet music for Modi, 58, it does two things.

One, it throws the BJP leadership issue into a tizzy. The designated PM-candidate Lal Krishna Advani, 82, is waiting in the wings, 85-year-old Bhairon Singh Shekawat has thrown his hat into the ring, and there are other claimants. And two, it opens up the old debate: can a state, or a nation, be run like a company? Can a nation be run like a business, with all the focus on the “bottomline”? Is what is good for India Inc, good for India?

In other words, because Gujarat has shown good growth under Modi, is it naturally presumed that Modi has it in him to overcome all the big issues of the day?

Whoever said you can’t build castles in the air?

29 December 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The competition between the Brothers Ambanis, Anil and Mukesh, is hotting up with no holds barred, be it at home or at business.

If the fight was over marbles and kites during their early years it is over planes, yachts and sky scrapers now.

The new toys they have procured (and are procuring) arouse so much curiosity and questions that finally the brothers agreed to meet the international media and answer queries.

“Your 400 crore yacht christened Tian is the talk amongst sailors right now. It is a hell of a toy. Aren’t you worried what might happen if you take her to the high seas with Somalian pirates on one side and non- state Pakistani actors on the other, scaring even the most peaceful sharks out there?” was the first question.

That was to younger Ambani, Anil.

“I have hired the services of US VI Fleet to guard us when we go out on a cruise. Tina and kids wouldn’t even feel anything going wrong around us. The largest Russian submarine will also be keeping a watch at handshaking distance.”

“What about the $50 million Airbus 319 you have presented to Nita, Mukesh? With jets and politicians making screaming noises in your region, how do you intend keeping Nita and children safe when they go around in the flying toy?”

“You can’t be sure of anything these days. When we enter Europe, the EU air defence system and NATO at Brussels will escort us as long as we are in Europe. Ditto, with US airbases giving us cover as we enter different territory. They will also do formations as we zoom along. Of course it will cost me a bit more. We want to make sure both safety and fun become part of our outing.”

“Your $2 billion 27-storey home ‘Antilia’ is really a 60–storey building that has hit headlines across the world, Mukesh. It would be quite a task overseeing maid servants when they clean and swab your place.”

“We can’t depend on humans any more, so we are getting robots to do the job for us. Robotics from New York will supply their machines. At the press of a button from the 27th, the robots in 14th and 9th floors will start dusting the sofas. I can spray jasmine room freshener for the 21st and rose for the 22nd from the ground floor.”

“Wow, that’s wonderful!”

“If we are coming back from vacation, say in the Bahamas, we can switch on all gadgets in kitchen, decide on the menu and get the dishes working so that our dinner will be ready as we land on the rooftop. Even champagne or lassi will be chilled to the right temperature”

“What about security?”

“Shabak, the Israeli security service, will provide internal security. We are also discussing with Scotland Yard and hope to have an agreement in hand soon,” replied Mukesh.

“What about you, Anil?”

“It’s in the drawing board stage is all I can say right now.”

“Can you share some highlights?”

“Well, basically, we are planning a home which will be a yacht in water, a jet plane while in air and a building with garden rest of the time. Depending on where we want to eat, go sightseeing, it will change accordingly. Something like, Sunrise in Tokyo followed by lunch in Thames’ waters in London or see the sun set as we fly into in Los Angeles is what we have in mind. The nitty-gritty will have to be worked out.”

The competitive spirit among siblings was truly overwhelming. As the reporters left the media conference, one of them was overheard saying, “What will they be fighting for, say ten years down the line? May be who controls Mars, Venus or who has already pocketed Jupiter or Saturn? Sky is not the limit for sibling rivalry.”

Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Mukesh Ambani

Madness, megalomania or hard-earned fruits?

Coming soon: Reliance hair-cutting saloons

Who would you like to see on the moon mission?

6 October 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: After the exciting launches of Chandrayaan I and II, the government quickly announced the dates for a manned spacecraft to land on the moon in the third Chandrayaan mission.

Along with space scientists, ISRO thought they should include the ‘Aam Admi’ for the historic mission. Applications were invited from various groups for possible selection. While some genuinely wanted to serve the cause of ISRO, others wanted to send their opponents thinking it may end up as a one-way ticket.

Since ISRO was planning to send a lunar vehicle, the all India truckers association chief Tractor Singh wanted a member of their association to be included in the team.

“Driving in the potholes of Grand Trunk road has given us the backbreaking experience of tackling any surface. Iske samne Chandrama kya chheez hain? We have enough experience of pushing our trucks even if the axle breaksdown in moon,” thundered Singh.

The Keraleeya Packet Lunch Sangham was the next to meet the ISRO chief.

“All we ever need is just a ladle and bandlee. With that we can whip up any food—Chinese, Punjabi, Mughalai, Chettinad, Udupi or any food which our astronauts want. If ISRO wants our scientists to come back safe and sound, better include our cooks as we can prepare food for any stomach to digest,” said their secretary.

Politicians, businessmen and sports stars too jumped into the fray.

The CPM chief Prakash Karat wanted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to be packed off with the 123 agreement neatly folded in his packet with a quicker countdown ‘321’ for blastoff.  He offered to finance the project from the Leftists’ fund and raise more money from China if necessary.

The PM on the other hand wanted ISRO to send both Advaniji and Karat so that they could at least form a Progressive Party in moon.

Mamta Banerjee, having evicted the Tatas from Singur, thought Moon would be an ideal place for the Nano Project. But here too she wanted only 400 acres to be earmarked for Nano and not a square inch more.

Ratan Tata suggested they would bear all the costs, if the trigger-happy Ms Banerjee could be packed off to moon and beyond so that she could do as many dharnas as she wished to. They thought the lunar terrain somehow agreed with her mental makeup.

Each of the feuding Ambani brothers wanted the other sibling sent to moon.  Looking at the tumbling share market, Dalal Street and Nifty wanted both of them to be sent to moon to start their new ventures there without troubling the courts ever so often.

Cricket too had its share of choices.

Former Chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar, who originally wanted Sourav Ganguly to go to moon to practice fielding, has had a change of heart. Now he wants the new chairman of selectors dashing Kris Srikkanth be sent to sharpen his skill in logic and reasoning and practice running commentary in his spare time.

Closer home, H.D. Kumaraswamy, the former chief minister, thought B.S. Yediyurappa would be the ideal candidate for moon to maintain communal harmony in Karnataka.

The story doing the rounds in mining circles is that the CM, who talks only in terms of crores of rupees these days, has reportedly promised Rs 1,000 crore if the entire family of Deve Gowda migrates to Moon. When last reports came they were still negotiating the price and dates.

While ISRO is in a fix wondering whom to select from Aam Janata, they are also happy about the choices available to them for future lunar missions.

Do you have any candidate whom you wish to serve in moon?

Hopefully, Telgi paid the IT guys genuine notes

6 August 2008

Having a good chartered accountant is the key to becoming (and staying) rich.

Together, Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani, the two sons of Dhirubhai Ambani, may control everything from books to cell phones to spectacles to vegetables—and petrol and plastics thrown in. They may be buying companies, setting up power units, and building skyscrapers.

But, neither brother figures in the list of India’s top-100 income-tax payers though their mother, Kokilaben, does! The real shocker is Abdul Karim Lala Telgi. The prime accused in the supposedly Rs 3,000 crore fake stamp paper scam paid Rs 6.5 crore in income-tax for 2007-08.

# Income-tax paid by Infosys co-chairman Nandan Nilekani: Rs 5.16 crore

# Income-tax paid by Wipro chairman Azim Premji: Rs 4.68 crore

Also read: Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

One question I’m dying to ask Mukesh Ambani

Biggest. Largest. Highest. Mostest. Anywhere.

30 July 2008

ASHVINI A. writes from Bangalore: The Bangalore edition of The Hindu has a piece today on the second unit of the Global Education Centre coming up on the Mysore campus of Infosys. And it takes your breath away: for the purpleness of the prose, and the megalomania of those articulating it.

Paragraph #1: “Independent India’s biggest structure that surpasses Rashtrapati Bhavan in size and equals it in grandeur…”

Paragraph #3: “For comparison, the floor area of the Rashtrapati Bhavan is 2 lakh square feet (as against the 9 lakh square feet of the new structure)…”

Paragraph #3: “The GEC has been designed entirely on classical style of architecture with similarities to the Colosseum of Rome, while the pillars are reflective of Parliament House…”

Paragraph #3: “…the structure reflects various ancient Greek and Roman architectural styles…”

Paragraph #4:”When completed, Infosys would have invested over Rs 1,650 crore… which is reckoned to be the largest investment ever on education at one place anywhere in India…”

Paragraph #5: “…keen to have the architectural styles of ancient Indian univerisities of Nalanda and Taxila too…”

Paragraph #6: “…the single largest residential unit anywhere in the world surpassing The Venetian at Macau…”

Paragraph #7: “…the country’s biggest automated laundry… with 175 individual washing machines.”

Paragraph #8: “…the world’s second largest synthetic tent structure… will accommodate 2,000 people.”

Going through the report, I was taken aback at a private structure being compared with the residence of the supreme commander of the armed forces—not once but thrice. Even if there is no law barring that, and even if true, I was struck by the company’s fixation with size.

Biggest. Largest. Second biggest. Most.

Anywhere.

This is good public relations, of course, and the flacks at Infosys would have broken into high fives this morning on seeing the seven-and-a-half column story, but should hacks of a seasoned newspaper like The Hindu so easily fall prey to the overdrive?

It can be argued that the kings of the knowledge economy, like N.R. Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani, at least do not go around building 27-storeyed residences for themselves like Mukesh Ambani. And what they do is it to educate people like us—and them.

But there is something decidedly offputting about Infy’s obsession with size.

Sure, size matters, especially if attracting and retaining topflight talent is proving difficult. Sure, it is a matter of pride that a company started on just a few thousand rupees has grown to this stature. Sure, this can be a major tourist attraction for Mysore (provided anybody can get in there).

But banging on and on about Rashtrapati Bhavan—and Greek, Roman and Venetian styles, and Nalanada and Taxila to boot—leaves you wondering whether those little children who will stay there for a few months will even have the time to appreciate it, enjoy it.

Or if the building, designed by Hafeez Contractor, is just about image building.

(A set of pictures circulating on the web show the fine facilities at the GEC, and everybody hard at work or sleeping, and not a single person using them at any time of day or night.) 

A friend in public relations wickedly suggests that Infosys is desperate to compare its new building with Rashtrapathi Bhavan as Narayana Murthy’s dreams of becoming President, and thus a resident of Rashtrapthi Bhavan, came crashing down after his goof-up on the National Anthem issue on the very same campus.

“Perhaps, unable to come to terms with that “historic blunder” of Murthy, this is the company’s way of making the mountain come to Murthy,” he says.

Unlikely, of course, but…

But when human resources director T.V. Mohandas Pai blasts the previous government which allotted the land for the GEC, for its “indifferent attitude towards promoting IT sector five years ago”, and praises the present government and asks for 300-400 acres in Bangalore, all in the same breath, you wonder.

Photograph: courtesy M.A. Sriram/ The Hindu

Read the full story: Infosys education centre is a grand structure

BCCI and Infosys: made for each other in Mysore

Also read: Madness, megalomania, or hard-earned fruits?

Lok Sabha TV: Programme highlights for July 22

21 July 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN scoops the programming highlights of the Lok Sabha channel for Tuesday, 22 July 2008:

***

Highlights for 22 July 2008

0000 Movie: Dealwale dulhaniya le jayange (continued)

0130 Midnight Masala (parental guidance advised)

0330 Batwara: Independents (special appearance: RLD, JMM, JDS) 
0400 Gupth Samaveshan: videoconference with MPs in jail 
0430 Blood money: Meeting with fixers

0530 SuprabhatHum ko shakti de bhagwan (Congress)
          Low power transmitters to delink and play Loh Purush ( in BJP states)
          Better red than dead (in Kerala, West Bengal, Tripura)

0600 Live coverage of leaders’ visit to  Swami Malai Mandir, Birla temple, Gurudwara, Jama Masjid

0700 Classroom: What is this nuclear Deal? ‘123’ classes to MPs by Anil Kakodkar

0730 What the czars foretell: live from Dalal Street

Behind the Scenes
0800  Deve Gowda with Mayawati
0810  Deve Gowda with Amar Singh

0820  Trailer: Deal tho pagal hain

0830 Business breakfast

0930 Amne Samne: Manmohan Singh with L.K. Advani
1000 Hum aap ke hain kahan?: Advani with Atal Behari Vajpayee 

1100 Live telecast of vote of confidence moved by honourable prime minister (In the chair: honourable speaker)

1300 Aap ka swasth: Medical checkup for all MPs

1400 Lunch: courtesy Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group

1500 Audio-visual: ‘How to vote & cross vote in Lok Sabha’

1530 Lecture-demonstration: How to abstain

1600 Topsy Turvy: How to cope with last-minute changes in agreements

1700 Closing Bell: Live from parliament

1800 Uranium 360: A 235-degree take on the day that was

2000 Cocktail-dinner: courtesy Mukesh Ambani

2100 Movie: Pati, patni aur woh

2200 Yeh kya hua, kaise hua?: Fixers from various parties

Coming soon: Reliance Hair-Cutting Saloons?

13 July 2008

Our Lactose-Deficient Correspondent in East Delhi reports that he has started drinking “Reliance Milk” from today. A half-litre packet of full cream milk, branded Dairy Pure, costing Rs 13 and made by Reliance Dairy Foods with its offices in Bombay, landed at his doorstep while he was asleep.

Tongue firmly in both cheeks, OLDCED writes: 

“After textile fabrics, petrol, petrochemicals, plastics, power, vegetables, wellness, mobile phones, mutual funds, chappals, groceries, books, spectacles and broom sticks, the mighty empire of Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani has deigned to sell me doodh.

“Only two things remain untouched by Dhirubhai Ambani‘s sons: haircutting saloons and autorickshaws. If India legalises the sex trade, Reliance will be the first to bid for it, too. After that we can stop holding elections and ask Reliance to bid for the government.

“A modh bania from Porbandar called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi wanted to fetch us self-reliance. What the modh banias called the Ambanis from Chorwad are giving us is Reliance, plain and simple.”

Photograph: courtesy India Retail Biz

Also read: Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

Surprise, Reliance gets fresh without fanfare

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Ambanis be selling avare kai?

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on Ambanis

16 June 2008

Anand Giridharadas has a lengthy profile of Mukesh Ambani, the bossman of Reliance Industries, in Sunday’s New York Times.

As usual, there are a couple of paragraphs on the Ambanis’ messy relationship with the media.

“Critics say Reliance has been especially effective at managing the press. [Two] former Reliance executives, who requested anonymity for fear of angering Ambani, say the company has actively curried favour with journalists to help it track the progress of negative articles.

“A prominent Indian editor, formerly of The Times of India, who requested anonymity because of concerns about upsetting Ambani, says Reliance maintains good relationships with newspaper owners; editors, in turn, fear investigating it too closely.

“”I don’t think anyone else comes close to it,” the editor said of Reliance’s sway. “I don’t think anyone is able to work the system as they can.”

“And the net result is plain: although India’s raucous news media have brought down many a powerful person and institution, Ambani and Reliance are rarely the subjects of hard-hitting Indian reporting.

“Reliance disagrees, regarding itself as the target of relentless media attacks. “There is malicious and negative stuff being written all the time. So where is the influence?” the Reliance spokesman said. “Ambani has told me that he will never pick up the phone and talk to the owner of a publication to say, ‘Write positive stuff’ or, ‘Stop writing negative stuff’.”

Read the full profile: Indian to the core, and an oligarch

Link via Chetan Krishnaswamy

Why middleclass needn’t take elections seriously

11 May 2008

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: OK, so I succumbed to the pressure and voted.

All those radio ads, the newspapers specials, the gigantic banners on streets, and peer pressure from smug fellow law schoolers finally made me register as a voter, collect a voter ID card, and go out there and hit the button on Election Day.

I walked back feeling good about having performed my civic duty, happy that I wouldn’t be branded as a cynical, know-it-all who doesn’t vote, but acknowledged as a cynical, know-it-all who does.

In fact I was even disappointed when the voter turnout for Bangalore city was about 50% or so.

I wanted to write an anguished piece for churumuri on “Why don’t the middle classes participate in the elections?” Halfway through, I realized that it was the classic case of kaiyyali benne hidkondu urrolella thuppa hudukudu.

Why should we (as in the middle class in India) “participate” in government by voting in elections, when we are the damn Government?

If the Government is the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the police, the election commission, the PM, President, the military, then we, the middle class, pwn the Government (and that’s not a typo).

I’m not talking about the clerks and the constables, but the IAS and IPS officers who are in charge. It is only the middle class that could (and probably still can) afford the education necessary to attain such posts, and once in it, has the necessary connections to stay there.

I don’t see too many daughters and sons of Puttamma and her like in the Government.

And Mukesh Ambani wouldn’t bother himself with the nitty gritty of running a Government when he has Reliance to worry about.

Sure the odd, hardworking, Hindi-movie-like-against-all-odds-poor guy joins Government (note how this never happens anymore in the movie industry itself) but these are only the exceptions that highlight who rules all organs of Government.

Yup, the middle class has Government neatly tied up in a bundle.

Except the Legislature.

Aah, Parliament. The one thing the poor suckers in rural India imagine they have some control over. So diverse, so vocal, so participatory, so powerful, so … so… useless.

I mean for all its “supremacy of the Parliament”, and “primary lawmaking body” it is still the most vestigial of governmental organs. More law is made by the Executive on any given day, and if the judiciary doesn’t like the law, it don’t matter shit (as poor Anbumani Ramadoss found out the other day).

So, realizing the utter and total futility of making laws, our Parliamentarians (and their diligent counterparts in the State Legislative Assemblies) have decided that they might as well spend the time doing a bit of campaigning and causing chaos.

So, we have well-rushing, tearing up of papers to prevent Bills from being introduced, rugby style defence (provided by women!), and of course, the infamous Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly Mike-Mela of 1997.
But you must admit: all of this is highly entertaining.

We should follow humour columnist Dave Barry‘s suggestion and see Parliament as the organ of Government devoted to entertainment (not that kind of ‘organ of entertainment’, you pervs!).

I mean, do you see any talent show throwing up a Lalu Prasad Yadav?

Does any WWE fight compare to the drama of watching zero hour on Lok Sabha TV?

Could even the world’s greatest satirist have come up with the kind of absurdity we saw in forty months of “coalition rule”?

Generations to come will scarce believe that one such as Deve Gowda actually walked in flesh and blood. They’ll dismiss him as a parody or a satirical composite of real people. After all, humans couldn’t possibly behave like that in public?!

So, in a public service message to the ones who usually batter our senses with public service messages: Stop asking us to take elections seriously!

The fate of the Government does not depend on the middle-class vote.

The future of Indian democracy does not depend on people like me taking 10 minutes from blogging, surfing the net, and Gtalk to go and vote for the most interesting symbol on a fancy machine.

Let the uneducated, and the misled vote for the criminal, the superstitious, the plain bigoted and the reactionary, and let them all behave as if they run this country. Taxes will seem like money well spent on four years (or less) worth of sheer entertainment.

We’ll do the governing anyway.

Five things I like (and don’t) about IPL (so far)

21 April 2008

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: As an early sceptic of the Indian Premier League, I thought IPL was going to be a reality show for the rich, but three days into Cricket ka Karmyudh, I am willing to eat one number small crow and unsubscribe to the purists’ rant about Twenty20 being a witches’ brew to kill the real thing. Looking at the crowds, the TV audiences, and the entertainment on offer, it’s clear the centre of the game is shifting—from Lord’s to the commoners.

What do I like about IPL, so far?

1) I like the fact it is not a distasteful display of the tricolour: The flags, the tee-shirts, the hairdos, and the stickers on the cheeks in saffron, white and green were getting on my very sensitive nerves. Thankfully, there is very little of this bogus nationalism on the field, as if only one country (India) was destined to win. Our cities seem to be slaying Norman Tebbit‘s demon of nation and identity every night.

2) I like the fact there are so many nationalities on show: I had had enough of spectators and audiences who learnt cricket by watching television, who thought only Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were ordained to perform on Earth. It’s delightful to see them being stumped and surprised by a Brendon McCullum or a David Hussey or a Mark Boucher night after night.

3) I like the fact that there is something very unpredictable about the matches: When countries are playing each other, you know what is coming. You know who is fielding at point, who will come two-down, who will carry the drinks, etc. But it’s truly beautiful to be surprised at every stage of the IPL by friends, foes, and foes-turned-friends. To see Sanath Jayasuriya and Harbhajan Singh and Shaun Pollock put their heads together to haul Bombay out of the coals is a sight for the Gods.

4) I like the fact that it provides such a learning experience for young Indian cricketers: The gap between Indian domestic cricket and international cricket is huge. With our Test players away most of the time, there is no chance to learn for the young. But it is magnificent to see a promising Vinay Kumar being advised by Boucher. Or to see an Abhishek Nayar pull off a stunner under pressure.

5) And I like the fact that in the first few days, it’s the foreign players who have brought most of the value: At a time of great xenophobia and pseudo-patriotism, when the local versus outsider debate is raging, McCullum and Hussey for Calcutta, Boucher and Kallis for Bangalore, Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds for Hyderabad, Jayasuriya and Robin Uthappa for Bombay, et al, seem to have carried the day.

What do I not like about the IPL, so far?

1) I dislike the fact that it is really, all said and done, a reality show for the rich: The sight of the camera repeatedly panning on to grown-up actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Priety Zinta, businessmen like Vijay Mallya and Mukesh Ambani, and celebrities Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi leaves you wondering if the ghost of Mark Mascarenhas is back. Yes, they own the teams at great cost, but should we pay obeisance so often?

2) I dislike the fact that even if cricket changes, its commentators remain the same: Remember Sunil Gavaskar scored 36 not out in a 60-over World Cup match. Remember Ravi Shastri could never get adrenaline going if he didn’t hear “Hai, hai” from the crowds. To see the same slow coaches belting the same cliches (“The Indians will want a wicket now”) about fast cricket is, well, depressing.

3) I dislike the TV cameras hunting for the ball so often: Under the night sky, the cameraman seem to be finding it difficult to spot the ball. I hate that, and I hate the advertisements doing a balle-balle while the commentary is on, or the commercials slicing into an over or a commentator being chopped off mid-sentence. DD doing it was bad, but why should SET Max?

4) I dislike the fact that it seems to go on so late into the night: When last night’s Bangalore match ended, the milk truck had already arrived to unload the crates for the booth in front of my home! Seriously. I know that IPL is supposed to compete with the soaps but should the second match on the weekends start so late that we might as well soap, shampoo and leave for work on Mondays after the match ends?

5) And finally I dislike the fact that competition is just a relentless torrent: Five matches in three days and I can’t even remember anything from day one, except McCullum’s sixes. After a few days I will forget that too. I dislike the fact that it doesn’t leave you to savour a great spell of bowling or a fine catch. It’s all here and now. It’s not instant gratification, it’s instantaneous. If only victory and defeat are all that matter, only statisticians will worry about statistics at this rate.

So what do you like or not like about the IPL?

‘First businessmen, now their agents in the RS’

29 March 2008

Anil Ambani‘s decision to hitch his wagon to the Samajwadi Party and become a member of the Rajya Sabha was generally seen to have been one of the contributing factors to his split with Mukesh Ambani. Like their father Dhirubhai Ambani, Mukesh was rumoured to have been of the belief that, while political influence was important for the group’s business operations, there was little to be gained by openly aligning with political parties.

That bit of conventional wisdom has come unstuck in the week gone by. At least three Mukesh Ambani men—two of them (Parimal Nathwani and Y.P. Trivedi) wholetime directors of the elder Ambani’s Reliance Industries, and the third (former bureaucrat N.K. Singh) a visiting fellow at the Reliance-sponsored thinktank Observer Research Foundation—have entered the house of elders, drawing the support of BJP, NCP, JMM, JD(U), among other parties.

There is even talk that a fourth Mukesh Ambani candidate may sneak through, although one news channel which did a story on the Reliance link has reportedly been served a legal notice. With so many businessmen sneaking into the Upper House—think Vijay Mallya, Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Rahul Bajaj, M.A.M. Ramaswamy, the late Lalit Suri, et al—and with so many parties helping them do so for not entirely political considerations, there were obvious questions to ask. Now, with their henchmen doing so, the circle it seems is complete.

In Jharkhand, Parimal Nathwani stood as an independent. Yet, according to unconfirmed reports, a number of cabinet ministers were willing and, in fact, did vote against the official UPA candidate while the chief minister himself abstained.

Harish Khare writes in The Hindu:

“Whether or not there was a quid pro quo, the critical aspect is that the industrialists have secured their passage with the cooperation, indulgence and votes of the established parties….

“The role of money in our public life has had a deleterious impact on the policy choices and moral integrity of political institutions. Apart from the aberrant case when an odd money-bag deemed it expedient to try to suborn the loyalty of a political or bureaucratic executive in order to sabotage or promote a policy, the business houses have over the years acquired a quasi-institutional voice for themselves. As the electoral process has become very expensive, the role and reach of money power has become all too obvious.

“However, it seems that the industrialists are no longer content with acquiring leverage in the political process by donating large sums of money during and between the election times. They seem now keen to pack the Upper House with their “men.” They want to have their agents in the middle of the action.”

Read the full story: One more invisible line crossed

Also read: Why Narayana Murthy will make a poor President


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