Friday, July 31, 2009


Anil Ambani in an interview to Times of India says that, "My respected elder brother has made it amply clear, both within the family, and externally, that he does not visualise any further role for my respected elder brother in resolving this matter or any other matter." This confirms the news that has been floating in Mumbai's stock market that Mukesh Ambani is flying on auto pilot. He has chosen to disregard his mother Kokilaben Ambani's counsel in resolving the problems with his brother. Everyone thinks this is a huge folly for the mother is believed to be the only one who can still across the table with the two estranged brothers and get them to engage with one another.

As part of the same interview, Ambani Jr says that, "Facts are being distorted to suggest that the RIL-RNRL agreement amounts to private division of national property...We are not claiming any rights to ownership of the KG Basin gas fields. All our claims are purely from RIL's lawful ownership and entitlement of production."

In the face of the sustained Ambani Jr. fusillade, it is surprising that the elder brother's camp is keeping mum. The silence is deafening. When an inarticulate person like chief lieutenant Manoj Modi is pressed into service to convince media owners and editors on the merits of RIL's position in the gas deal, then one knows that there is a complete bankruptcy of ideas in the Mukesh Ambani camp. Even legal eagle Harish Salve appears to be sheepish and on the back foot after the Anil Ambani attack.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

attack pays dividends

Anil Ambani's blistering attack on oil minister Murli Deora seems to have paid off. The calibrated attack launched during the RNRL AGM followed by interviews to leading media entities and a late night concall seem to be working as a pressure tactic. On Thursday, the oil ministry reportedly is planning to withdraw its Special Leave Petition from the Supreme Court. A SLP as corporate lawyer H P Ranina explained is only field if there is patent error in a judgment given by a lower court, in this case the Bombay High Court's verdict in favour of RNRL on June 15.

By withdrawing the SLP, the oil ministry seems to have decided that discretion is the better part of valour to use an age old proverb. With the oil ministry realising that Ambani Jr's attack has convinced everyone about the veracity of the 'commercial dispute', it is better to withdraw and reframe the SLP. The oil ministry's claim that it was a private dispute and not a commercial one has since been flushed down the toilet. The question is - will the oil ministry amend the SLP and what will its new thrust be on?

Round One seems to have gone to Anil Ambani. With the Supreme Court deciding to hear the matter on September 1, expect much drama in print and television on the subject. For no one remembers such an all out attack by an industrialist against a sitting union minister, and that too by name. Industrialists and businessmen have always kowtowed to the whims and fancies of ministers as they need leverage. This brazen attack will certainly result in something. Next stop is Murli Deora's statement on the matter in parliament on Monday. Watch the Samajwadi members during the statement. Expect more action.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

empire strikes back

By using the RNRL AGM as a platform to put all the relevant facts about the gas row with RIL in public domain, younger bro Anil Ambani seems to be upping the ante. As this morning's TOI and ET both suggest, it is difficult to remember a leading industrialist taking on a union minister in a such a sharply worded manner. First it was his legal counsel Ram Jethmalani who said that the oil ministry is in elder bro Mukesh Ambani's 'pocket' and now Ambani Jr has challenged the oil ministry to take back the oil and gas fields from RIL.

It also needs to be mentioned as the leading papers have stated that Ambani Jr has cleverly made a clear distinction between the government and the errant oil ministry. This obviously stems from a tactical ploy to isolate oil minister Murli Deora in the ruling party. It is clear that Ambani Jr has no bone to pick with the government, but is targeting his ire at his uncle - Murli Kaka. An uncle who in turn is making a distinction between his two nephews Mukesh and Anil. It is well known that Murli Deora was a close confidant of Dhirubhai, but ever since he was elevated to a Cabinet minister's rank and that too in the sensitive oil and gas ministry, he has showered his older nephew with largesse.

Sometime in 2006, oil minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was knocked out in palace coup and Deora with no experience in government was installed in his place. This is what Ambani Jr highlighted at the AGM, detailing a chronology of events which led to the oil ministry and the government in turn becoming a party to what till then was merely a commercial dispute. At the same time, Ambani Jr highlighted how the same government and the power ministry remain unconcerned about NTPC's right over KG Basin gas. NTPC and RIL have what RIL describes as an 'unconcluded' contract and the case is pending in the Bombay High Court.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Right and wrong

Who is right and who is wrong in the Ambani gas row? Delhi's political class is abuzz with who is getting the right and wrong end of the stick. The joke doing the rounds on Monday night was that while KG gas belongs to India and not Ambani brothers, which is what oil minister Murli Deora said on NDTV Profit, Murli Kaka himself certainly belongs to Mukesh Ambani, as articulated by RNRL lawyer Ram Jethmalani on a rival business channel.

Deora more loyal than the king himself continues to make an ass of himself by uttering inanities which only confound one and all. The political class is not surprised that Deora is batting aggressively for Mukeshbhai, but is wondering aloud as to why the oil ministry has changed its tune so suddenly and abruptly. After proclaiming to one and all that the gas row was a private dispute and that it had no role in fixing the price of gas, including making this submission in parliament on multiple ocassions; the government read oil ministry has gone ahead and impleaded itself in the apex court. While this doesn't surprise anyone, what confounds all and sundry is that the oil ministry has become so bold and brazen.

Reuters in its morning report stated that on Monday the Supreme Court cleared the way for the government to be a party in the court battle. Which means that it is mission accomplished for Deora. But as RNRL lawyer said, "The government's role in this matter is not conducive to public interest." Oil secretary R S Pandey told ET Now that the government has gone to court saying that this MoU which appropriates this gas as personal, private property, is not correct. The oil ministry is in the process subverting its own case and interest as PSU power major NTPC is fighting a case against RIL over gas. RIL has debunked the claim and contract for gas as 'not concluded.' This contract/gas supply aggreement was signed at $2.34 per mmbtu and became the pricing basis of a subsequent RNRL gas supply agreement with RIL. This gas supply for the Dadri plant was ratified by the RIL board of directors. Neither the power ministry, nor the oil ministry seem to be bothered about the state of that legal case. Cut your nose to spite your face, is the morale of this story.

When Deora says - I am disgusted with the fight between Ambanis - is he referring to both the brothers or merely the younger brother. The gas doesn't belong to them, he shouts. But then why does he continue protecting the interests of the elder brother Mukesh.

crisis management

Is Reliance Industries Delhi satrap Najeeb Jung headed for Jamia Millia Islamia University in the capital as the new vice chancellor? Over the weekend, the gas row has seen a massive reorganisation within the Delhi establishment with Jung exiting from an active role and Shankar Adawal returning as the chief trouble shooter. Old fox Balu has also begun to make his presence felt in the political circles, given his fabled networking skills with Congress politicians. Nira Radia has been asked to keep out of all legal tangles and the Pradip Baijal article in Business Standard has not gone down well with Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani. Hence the return of Adawal from wilderness. Reliance Industries is bringing all its muscle to bear to ensure that the gas doesn't go to Anil Ambani owned Reliance Natural Resources. All the fixers and powerbrokers have been told to stay clear of the matter as the Supreme Court begins to examine this ticklish subject and will take a view next on September 1.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

New Media Manager

With the slow and gradual exit of Mukesh Ambani close confidante Anand Jain from the charmed circle of the Reliance Industries chairman, his other close associate Manoj Modi has emerged as the new media manager. Not known for his articulation and persuasive skills Modi in an unprecedented move arrived in Delhi recently to explain RIL's stand on the simmering gas row between the two estranged brothers.

With Nira Radia running black ops for Reliance Industries in Delhi's power circuit, many of the traditional powerbrokers in the RIL camp have either ceased to function or have been removed from the equation or given alternative assignments. Former Delhi boss Shankar Adawal has been sidelined completely, the all powerful Balu aka V Balasubramaniam is also now a pale shadow of his old self, though he still frequents his old haunts of Shastri Bhawan and Le Meridien Hotel. Another key lieutenant Samir Saran who used his charm offensive to network with journalists finds himself cooling his heels in Observer Research Foundation. Former IAS officer and joint secretary in the petroleum ministry Najeeb Jung has been installed in Gopaldas Bhawan, the epicentre of RIL's machinations in Delhi.

So, with no real pointman left in the capital, Manoj Modi despite having burnt Mukesh Ambani's petroleum cash in a disaster called retail was seconded into explaining the RIL stance to top editors and promoters in Delhi. Meeting television channel bosses and print editors, as also briefing some of the key younger personnel, he gave them a rundown on the state of the gas row. Unscathed after the Reliance Retail debacle, Modi has turned out to be Mukesh Ambani's key crisis manager. It is clear that after squandering a fortune punting on the oil spike heading for $200 a barrell, Mukesh Ambani is taking no chances with the KG Basin gas. Reneging on his promise and commitment to give gas to government owned NTPC and his younger brother's Reliance Natural Resources comes naturally to him.
Unscrupulous fixers

Justice delayed and perhaps even denied. That is the story of the long running Ambani gas row till date as Mukesh Ambani and his pliant petroleum ministry tries to thwart Anil Ambani's Reliance Natural Resources from getting the gas due to it. Delhi's underbelly replete with fixers and powerbrokers are haring around town to ensure that RNRL does not get the gas. While Mukesh Ambani has now befriended erstwhile arch rival Ratan Tata and even shares a public relations agency in the form of Pradip Baijal fronted but Nira Radia owned Neucom Consulting, a wide array of fixers are on the job trying to fix the Supreme Court verdict. With the Indian judiciary proving time and again that it is above all pressures, delivering justice effectively, it is getting that much more difficult for Mukesh Ambani, Nira Radia and the likes of Baijal to get what they want. Baijal is moving from one television studio to another spewing catchphrases like national resource and government property, mobilising public opinion against RNRL.

Nira Radia's Vaishnavi Communications has been engaged by the House of Tatas for almost a decade now and was spawned the negative publicity surrounding the Tata Finance fraud. Lately, with Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata turning friends from foes, Vaishnavi and Radia floated a new company Neucom Consulting which is now handling Mukesh's PR. Former TRAI chairman and disinvestment secretary Pradip Baijal is Neucom's man in the corridors of power in the capital lobbying in DoT, power and petroleum ministries. This suits Tata and Radia for they are rivaling Anil Ambani's group companies in the telecom and power sectors. Baijal recently wrote an article in Business Standard slamming Anil Ambani's RNRL on the gas issue. A day or two later, he found himself ousted (had to resign) from the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board for conflict of interest, given that he is doing public relations for Neucom/Reliance Industries in the same space.Baijal who was chairman of the pipeline advsiory committee was to advise PNGRB on laying cross country pipelines and city gas distribution projects. Incidentally, Mukesh Ambani's RIL is in both spaces. The irony is that Hasmukh Shah has replaced Baijal. Shah is a former chairman of IPCL, a company acquired by RIL during the NDA's disinvestment through the strategic route programme. While Baijal claims that he quit in June, the news was outed by Press Trust of India only after the damaging BS article.Coincidence? Baijal served as telecom regulator and had a longish stint in the power ministry earlier and is widely believed to be networking with key bureaucrats on the gas issue.

Meanwhile, Government agencies are alive to the situation and at the behest of the Prime Minister's Office have put many dubious individuals on the watch list. All these people are proclaiming to the world that they can influence the judgement. Under surveillance are Nitin Jain (who was once jailed for being Chota Shakeel's associate), Parasmal Lodha (formerly of Peerless fame) and real estate cum building contractor Naresh Chopra. These fixers are tearing around Delhi talking to various people involved in the high profile case.


A deeply divided Cabinet is upset with the shenanigans of the Murli Deora controlled Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry, also known as Mukesh Ambani's B Team in the capital.With the stakes extremely high in ther battle over gas, no stone is being left unturned by Mukesh Ambani and Murli Deora. But this has left senior ruling party politicians fuming for the blatant disregard of the rule of law to ensure that Mukesh Ambani gets his right of way. Forget younger brother Anil Ambani who is fighting him for the gas, Public Sector power utility NTPC also be damned. NTPC has been waging a running battle with RIL, now lodged in the courts to get its share of KG Basin gas for its Kawas and Gandhar plants. But to no avail, a powerless power ministry has been tripped repeatedly by the all powerful petroleum ministry.With the government practically impleading itself in the Ambani gas row to protect Mukesh Ambani's interests in the gas row, calling the family MoU as null and void in the matter, despite the honourable Maharasttra High Court ruling in favour of Anil Ambani owned Reliance Natural Resources, caution has now been thrown to the winds.

The government's law officers are perturbed at the appropriation of absolute power by Reliance Industries. The government's response in the honourable Supreme Court vetted by RIL officials and presented in a brazen manner by Mohan Parasaran and T S Doabia. What has shocked one and all and a senior Cabinet minister has privately even called it a disgrace and a matter of shame is the manner in which Justice Doabia is being allowed to subvert the system. Doabia, a retired justice is incidentally is the same man who wrote to SEBI and the ministry of finance seeking a probe in the Anil Ambani owned Reliance Power IPO a couple of years back using the plea that the interest of the public should be protected and the said IPO should not be allowed to proceed. It was proved that the missive was fired off with malafide intent and both the ministry of finance and SEBI threw out the petition and allowed the IPO to go ahead.

Now the same Doabia is once again leading the charge in the framing of the government affidavit against RNRL. With the Prime mInister travelling abroad and the Cabinet and senior government law officers not even informed or approached, the petroleum ministry is functioning in an arbitrary and unilateral manner. Since the Cabinet has not even approved the strategy adopted by the petroleum ministry, it is fair to say that there is consternation in the ranks of the UPA coalition.With the Centre urging the apex court to quash the June 15 Bombay High Court order directing Mukesh Ambani to fulfil his 'commitment' and provide gas to Anil Ambani's RNRL as per an MoU between them, suggesting that it was null and void and that the Ambani brothers could not hold the economy hostage, the pinch is being felt by RNRL and not RIL. Very cleverly, the Centre, read petroleum ministry and its minister Murli Deora is using the Ambani brothers tag to target younger sibling Anil Ambani only.The role of Parasaran and Doabia, noted Anil Ambani baiters in this is also not lost on several top ranking politicians who believe that the younger Ambani might be getting the worst end of the stick.

What is even more intriguing is that Doabia was the government's counsel in the RIL-RNRL dispute in the Bombay High Court from the beginning. As senior government counsel in the high profile case, he was instrumental in the government involving itself in what was essentially a dispute between two brothers. CNBC TV 18 reported on November 18, 2007 that Doabia was replaced by then additional solicitor general Mohan Parasaran in the case. Doabia came under fire after NTPC fighting a parallel gas row case against RIL found the senior counsel compromising its own position in the Bombay High Court. Yet, both Doabia and Parasaran have been at the vanguard of the petroleum ministry's role in adopting an intervenionist stance on behalf of Mukesh Ambani. NTPC had trashed the government counsel Doabia's submission that it had no case against RIL since it did not have a concluded gas supply pact with RIL. NTPC chairman R S Sharma had told Economic Times 22 August that the "RIL-NTPC agreement was legally valid and concluded one. The counsel's comments are false and misleading, our lawyers will strongly deny such loose statements in a court of law."

Fiction however, is stranger than fact in the gas saga as Mukesh Ambani's B Team - the petroleum ministry - pulls out all the stops to ensure that RIL and Ambani SR do not give any gas to the younger brother. A small aside on the RIL-NTPC case which is shrouded in controversy. On June 18, 2005, the family MoU was inked and RIL pulled the plug on its gas supply agreement with NTPC on June 17, 2005 by dashing off a letter to NTPC saying that the gas supply agreement was not a concluded one. At every step, there has been subterfuge used by RIL and the petroleum ministry to thwart RNRL.