The Polyester Prince

केजरीवाल ने इस बार रिलायंस पर निशाना साधा है। लेकिन रिलायंस पर भ्रष्टाचार के आरोप इससे पहले भी लगते रहे है। ऑस्ट्रेलिया के एक पत्रकार Hamish McDonald ने 1998 में एक किताब लिखी थी- The Polyester Prince. बहुत रोचक तरीके से लिखी इस किताब में यह दिखाया गया है कि रिलायंस का पूरा साम्राज्य भ्रष्टाचार और तिकड़म पर आधारित है। एक जगह लेखक लिखता है कि जब भी धीरुभाई दिल्ली में सत्ता के गलियारे में लोगों से मिलने पहुंचते थे तो उनके पास मंत्री और टाप ब्यूरोक्रैट से लेकर चपरासी तक सबके लिए कुछ ना कुछ जरुर होता था। वे किसी को निराश नहीं करते थे। लेखक कहता है कि धीरुभाई के पास सभी तरह के जूते थे- सोने के, चांदी के, तांबे के……………. जैसी जिसकी औकात वैसा जूता।
मजे की बात यह है कि इस किताब के छपते ही भारत सरकार ने इस पर प्रतिबंध लगा दिया।
प्रस्तुत है इसी किताब की भूमिका। पूरी पुस्तक आप यहां से डाउनलोड कर सकते है.

AN INVITATION TO BOMBAY
The envelope was hand-delivered to our house in Golf Links, Tan enclave in New Delhi
whose name captured the clubbable lifestyle of its leisured and propertied Indian
residents, soon after we had arrived in the middle of a north Indian winter to begin a long
assignment. It contained a large card, with a picture embossed in red and gold of the
elephant-headed deity Ganesh, improbably carried on the back of a much smaller mouse.
Dhirubhai and Kokilaben Ambani invited us to the wedding of their son Anil to Tina
Munim in Bombay.
In January 1991, just prior to the explosion in car ownership that in later winters kept the
midday warmth trapped in a throat-tearing haze overnight, it was bitterly cold most of the
time in Delhi. Our furniture had still not arrived-a day of negotiations about the duty
payable lay ahead at the Delhi customs office where the container was broken open and
inspected-and we camped on office chairs and fold-up beds, wrapped in blankets.
The Indian story was also in a state of suspension, waiting for something to happen. The
Gulf War, which we watched at a big hotel on this new thing called satellite television,
was under- cutting many of the assumptions on which the Congress Party’s family
dynasty, the Nehrus and Gandhis, had built up the Indian state. The Americans were
unleashing a new generation of weap- ons on a Third World regime to which New Delhi
had been close; its Soviet friends were standing by, even agreeing with the Americans.
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwalt had pushed up oil prices and forced the Indian Government
to evacuate some three million of its citizens working in the Gulf. The extra half-billion
dollars all this cost India was pushing the country close to default on its foreign debt.
Officials from the Ministry of Finance were already negotiating a bail-out from the IMF
in Washington; the IMF was setting stiff ‘conditionalities’-in effect a complete shift from
Nehru’s model of high external protection for the economy and government allocation of
savings. Even the CNN clips of Tomahawk cruise missiles zipping neatly down the
streets of Baghdad were in themselves part of another breach in India’s walls. The clites
who ran the national TV monopoly or the big newspapers no longer had India’s halfilliterate
population to
themselves.
Little of this was admitted in New Delhi. The coalition government of V P Singh, which
had swept out the glamorous Rajiv Gandhi on a battery of corruption scandals, had itself
collapsed in November after less than a year in office. India was ruled by an even smaller
coalition of opportunists under a wily politico called Chandrashekhar, kept in office at
Rajiv’s pleasure for who knew how long. Everyone clung to the autarkic, Third World
verities. Politicians and journalists pounced on the slightest admission by their fellows
that perhaps India’s vision of the world had been flawed and it had better adjust to the
new order. At the Ministry of External Affairs, in the red sandstone majesty of Sir
Herbert Baker’s Secretariat buildings, a bright young official on a new economic desk
assured me that India’s finances were strong enough to take the strains. At a party of
intellectuals’ young academics and filmmakers in rough cotton kurta-payjama suits
scoffed at the prospects for satellite TV. How would the advertising payments get out to
the broadcaster through the maze of foreign exchange controls? Which foreign
companies would want to plug products they could neither export to India nor make
locally?
The wedding invitation was a good excuse to break away from this stalemate in New
Delhi, and make contact with the Indian commercial class in Bombay. There it looked as
if a raw entrepreneurial spirit was straining to break through the discouraging political
crust. Word of the Ambani family and their company Reliance Industries had spread to
Hong Kong as prime examples of this brash new India which might finally have its day,
courtesy of the changes the Gulf War symbolised.
Everything about the Ambanis, in fact, was a good magazine story The young couple’s
courtship had been a stormy one, ready-made for the Bombay show-biz magazines. The
bride, Tina Munim, was a girl with a past. She had been a film starlet, featuring in several
of the Hindi-language films churned out by the hundreds every year in ‘Bollywood’-most
including improb- able violence, song-and-dance routines, and long sequences with the
female leads in wet, clingy clothes. Before meeting Anil, Tina had had a heavy, wellpublicised
affair with a much older actor. The groom, Anil, was the tearaway one of the
two Ambani boys. His parents had frowned on the match. Bombay’s magnates usually
tried to arrange matches that cemented alliances with other powerful business or political
families. This one was not arranged, nor did it bring any more than a certain popularity.
Hired assailants had been sent with acid and knives to scar Tina’s face, so went the gossip
(apocryphal: Tina’s face turned out to be flawless). Anil had threatened suicide if he
could not marry Tina, went another rumour. Finally, the parents had agreed.
The father, Dhirubhai, was no less colourful and even more controversial. He had first
worked in Aden in the 1950s. I recalled a stopover there in my childhood, aboard the S.
S. Oronsay, a buff-hulled Orient Line ship, en route to my father’s posting in London
with his Australian bank in 1958. The image was of grim, dark-brown peaks surrounding
a harbour of brilliant blue, a host of merchant ships tied up to moorings, and a busy
traffic of launches and barges. The trip ashore was by launch, landing at Steamer Point,
where Arabs and Indians besieged the white faces, trying to sell us Ottoman-style
cushions or to drag us into their duty-free shops. Now someone like those desperate
salesmen in Aden was a tycoon in Bombay.
Ambani had got into polyester manufacturing in a big way, and got huge numbers of
Indians to invest in shares of his company, Reliance Industries. In India, the home of fine
cotton textiles, it seemed that people couldn’t get enough polyester. The only constraint
on local producers like Reliance was the government’s licensing of their capacity, or
where they built their factories. To jack up his capacity, Ambani had become a big
political fixer. In the recent minority government formation, it was said, his executives
had been shuttling briefcases of cash to politicos all over Delhi. There had been epic
battles, with the press baron Ramnath Goenka of the Indian Express and with a textile
rival from an old Parsi business house, Nusli Wadia. A year or so earlier, a Reliance
public relations manager had been arrested for plotting to murder Wadia. The man had
been released, and nothing was moving in the case. Was it genuine or a frame-up? Indian
colleagues were not sure: no conspiracy was accepted at face value.
So we took our first trip inside India, making our way down to New Delhi Railway
Station in a yellow-and-black cab, one of the 1954 Morris Oxford design still being made
in Calcutta, in the rose-coloured haze of a winter afternoon; letting a red-shirted porter
heave our bags on his head and lead us to the train, establishing our rights to the coveted
two-berth compartment in the middle of the First Class Air-Conditioned carriage from the
list pasted by the door.
The train slid across the flat beige northern landscape of wheat-stubble and square houses
as night fell. In the morning we were trundling past palm trees and mangrove-bordered
creeks before humming into Bombay through suburban stations packed with commuters.
If New Delhi was a city of books, discourse, seminars and not much action or precision,
Bombay was one where people made the most of the nine-to-five working day before
battling their way home to the distant suburbs. Most crucially, Bombay had accepted the
telephone as a medium of dialogue-not merely as a preliminary to an exchange of letters
setting up a meeting. It was also unashamedly concerned with money and numbers. New
contacts like Pradip Shah, founder of India’s first rating agency for corporate debt, with
the slightly alarming acronym of CRISL, or Sucheta Dalal, a business journalist at The
Times of India, or Manoj Murarka, partner of the old stockbroking firm of Batlivala &
Karani, rattled off the details of industrial processes, forward- trading in the sharemarket
or conversion dates of debentures at bewildering speed.
The wedding was going to be big, so big that it was to take place in a football stadium,
the same one where Dhirubhai Ainbani had held many of his shareholders’ meetings.
But it began in an oddly casual way. As instructed, we went mid-afternoon to the
Wodehouse Gymkhana Club, some distance from the stadium. There we found guests
milling in the street outside, the men dressed mostly in lavishly cut dark suits and showy
ties, moustaches trimmed and hair brilliantined. The women were heavily made up, laden
with heavy gold jewellery, and wearing lustrous gold-embroidered silk saris. Anil
Ambani appeared suddenly from the club grounds, dressed in a white satiny outfit and
sequinned turban, sitting on a white horse. A brass band in white frogged tunics struck up
a brash, repetitive march and we set off in separate phalanxes of men and women around
the groom towards the stadium. Every now and then, the process would pause while the
Indian guests broke into a pro- vocative whirling dance, some holding wads of money
above their head. The stadium was transformed by tents, banks of inarigolds and lights
into a make-believe palace, and filled up with 2000 of the family’s closest friends and
business contacts. They networked furiously while a barechested Hindu pundit put Anil
and Tina through hours of Yedic marriage rites next to a smouldering sandalwood fire on
a small stage. Later, the guests descended on an elaborate buffet on tables taking up an
entire sideline of the football pitch, starting with all kinds of samosas and other snacks,
working through a selection of curries and breads, and finishing with fruits and sweets
wrapped in gold leaf. The next day, the Ambanis put on the same spread-if not the
wedding ceremony at another reception for 22000 of their not-so-close. friends,
employees and second-echelon contacts.
Retrospectively, by the standards of Bombay a few years later, it looks a modest and
traditional affair. Before their joint marriage of three children in 1996, the ingratiating
Hinduja family had an elaborately illustrated book prepared on the Hindu marriage and
sent to all invitees. Other business alliances were celebrated with elaborate stage-sets
based on the ancient epics; lines of elephants led the processions of the grooms and
diamonds were pasted to the foreheads of women guests. But at the time, the sheer size of
the wedding was seen as a sign that Dhirubhai Ambani had made it through the political
travails of 1989~90 and was unabashed-and certainly not strapped for cash or friends.
It was flattering to be there and to have a Reliance public relations manager take me up to
meet the Ambanis-flattering, within a month of arriving in India, to meet the country’s
fastest moving, most controversial tycoon. An interview was promised shortly, once the
festivities were over. An early cover story was clearly a possibility, an antidote to the
gloomy political news out of Delhi. It would help my standing at the Far Eastern
Economic Review if India was an upbeat business story and I was right on to it.
That of course was the desired effect. Reliance was desperate to raise funds for expansion
and was looking to foreign sources, so some image-building in a prestigious magazine
was highly useful. A newcomer to India would be more inclined to play down the
controversies and look at the company’s prospects.
The interview, when it took place a month or so later, was stimulating. Dhirubhai
Ambani came limping around a huge desk when I was ushered to a sofa and greeted me
warmly. Despite the obvious effects of a stroke in a twisted right hand, his mahogany
skin was smooth and healthy, his hair plentiful and slicked back decisively in a duck’s
tail. His attention was unwa- vering. Disarmingly, Dhirubhai admitted to many of the
youthful episodes that were the subject of rumour, and responded evenly when I raised
some of the criticisms commonly levelled against him. He didn’t mind people calling him
an ‘upstart’ or even worse names. It just meant they were trapped in their complacency
while he was racing ahead. But the disputes were now ‘all history’ and the former critics
were now all his ‘good friends’ buying their polyester and raw materials from him.
‘The orbit goes on changing,’ he declared airily. ‘Nobody is a permanent friend, nobody is
a permanent enemy. Everybody has his own self-interest. Once you recognise that,
everybody would be better off.’
However, Ambani did point to an unfortunate trait in his countrymen. ‘You must know
that, in this country, people are very jealous.’ It was not like in Hong Kong or other East
Asian countries, where people applauded each other’s success, he claimed. In India
success was seen as the prerogative of certain families. But he didn’t really mind.
‘Jealousy is a mark of respect,’ he said.
The interview resulted in a cover story for the Far Eastern Economic Review which
portrayed Ambani as the business underdog trying to break through the government’s red
tape and the prejudices of a tired Bombay business establishment. Naturally enough,
Ambani and his PR men were pleased. His one quibble, I was told, had been my pointing
out some glossed-over problem areas in the Reliance annual reports, which had been put
in the notes to the accounts, fine-print areas that only the professional analysts really
read. The comments were true enough, but they made it look as though Reliance was
unusual among Indian companies in these practices.
The Reliance public relations office continued to be attentive, supplying advance notice
of newsworthy events. At one point later in 1991, there was another glimpse of Dhirubhai
Ambani’s energetic mind. His Delhi office passed on a request for information about
Indonesia’s engagement in the late 1980s of the Swiss cargo clearance firm Societe
Generale de Surveillance (SGS) to administer its imports and exports, thereby sidelining
the country’s notoriously corrupt customs service for several years. I sent off some
clippings, intrigued that the man accused of smuggling whole factories through the ports
of India now seemed to be advocating Swiss efficiency in place of the lax adininistration
of which he had supposedly taken advantage. The proposal got to a high level in the
government before being canned, but not before causing panic in the Indian customs
service-which may have been all Dhirubhai wanted to do anyway.
There were daily updates from the Reliance PR staff on an issue of convertible securities
issued in the Eurornarket in May 1992, the first by an Indian company and tangible proof
of India’s reforms reconnecting it to the world economy. There was a company-organised
trip out of Bombay up to its new petro- chemicals plant at Hazira, involving a bumpy
flight in a chartered turboprop to the airfield at Surat, bare of airport terminals or
navigational aids as far as could be seen, and a drive through the old textile trading city,
squalid despite its lucrative silk and diamond industries-and, a couple of years later,
notorious for an outbreak of bubonic plague. Across the Tapti River, a glittering array of
pipes and towers had indeed come up, and cryogenic tankers full of sub-zero ethylene
were tied up at the jetty. Reliance was clearly not just a paper empire.
But the history of political and corporate activity had put a sinister shadow across the
glearning success. M through the government changes of 1990 and 1991, the press
carried references to a certain ‘large industrial house’ supporting this or that party or being
behind certain politicians. Scores of party leaders, ex-ministers, senior bureaucrats, and
heads of the big government- owned banks and corporations were said to be Ambani
friends’ or Ambani critics’. Mostly it was the friends, it seemed, who got the jobs.
People made bitter and cynical remarks about the Ambanis in private. The press
coverage, especially in the Indian business magazines, had a repetitive quality. A myth
was being created and sustained. At a meeting of shareholders in a big Bornbay
engineering firm named Larsen & Toubro late in 1991, convened to approve a takeover
by the Ambanis, this undercurrent of hostility welled up into a physical melee. In the
shouting and jostling, the two Ambani sons had to flee the stage. The controversies kept
continuing right through the 1990s.
Dhirubhai Ambani attracted adulation or distrust. To his millions of investors, who had
seen their share prices multiply, he was a business messiah. To one writer, he was a
‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ created by India’s experiments with close government control of
the economy.
‘There are three Dhirubhai Ambanis,’ one of his fellow Gujaratis, a writer, told me. ‘One
is unique, larger than life, a brand name. He is one of the most talked about industrialists.,
and for Gujarati people he has tremendous emotional and sentimental appeal. He is their
ultimate man, and has inspired many emulators. The second Dhirubhai Ambani, is a
schemer, a first-class liar, who regrets nothing and has no values in life. Then there is the
third Dhirubhai Ambani, who has a more sophisticated political brain, a dreamer and a
visionary, almost Napoleonic. People are always getting the three personalities mistaken.’
In a legal chamber lined with vellum-bound case references, a senior lawyer took an
equally stark view. ‘Today the fact is that Ambani is bigger than government,’ said the
lawyer in all seri- ousness. ‘He can make or break prime ministers. In the United States
you can build up a supereorporation but the political system is still bigger than you. In
India the system is weak. If the stock exchange dares to expose Ambani, he tells it: I will
pull my company shares out and make you collapse. I am bigger than your exchange. If
the newspapers criticise, he can point out they are dependent on his advertising and he
has his journalists in every one of their departments. If the political parties take a stand
against him, he has his men in every party who can pull down or embarrass the leaders.
He is a threat to the system. Today he is undefeatable.’
Surprisingly, the role played by Dhirubhai Ambani received only cautious side-references
in most books about contemporary Indian politics. No biography of him was in the
bookshops, although Indian journalists and conunentators had produced 1quickie’
biographies of other new celebrities in vast numbers. The work of the economic
historians largely cut out in the 1960s. The few biographies of other Indian businessmen
were commissioned works, not very well written, and notable for a worshipful attitude to
the subjects. No one drank, cursed, cheated or philandered. Their workers were all part of
the family. Almost everyone lived an abstemious vegetarian life, accumulating wealth
only to give it away to temples, hospitals and schools.
By 1992, Reliance was tapping investors in Europe for fund- ing, and international
investment funds were being allowed to play the Indian sharemarket directly. A few years
later, the company had started borrowing in New York on a large scale. The Ambani
story was becoming of greater interest outside India, at least to investors and perhaps to a
wider audience watching the explosive growth of capitalism across Asia.
The idea of this book occurred in 1992, and I put it to Dhirubhai Ambani later that year at
a second meeting in his Bombay office. Ambani seemed receptive, and agreed that his
life story could be ‘inspiring’ for a younger generation of Indians as well as interesting to
those thinking of dealing with India. I left the meeting with an understanding that he had
agreed to talk about his life at meetings to be arranged and that, if so, I would show him
the completed draft as a courtesy and listen to any objections-but retain the final say on
the content. The book would not be credible’ otherwise, Ambani concurred.
A year slipped away without further progress, and then relations with Reliance took a
downturn. By the end of 1993, Reliance was in the bidding for several oilfields in the
Arabian Sea. The government oil search corporation had discovered the fields but did not
have the funds to build the huge production rigs, gas compressors and pipelines that were
needed. Several contacts among rival bidders were alleging that the tender was being
rigged in favour of Reliance. Indian politicians and bureau- crats are masters at tilting an
‘open and transparent’ tender into a one-horse race, by techniques such as keeping the
weighting of bidding factors uncertain or secretly promising later concessions to
compensate for underbidding. In the event, Reliance swept the field, and a director with
one of the losers told me: ‘We were shafted, and for the wrong reasons.’
Writing about this would not advance my request for access to the Ambanis for the book,
but my duty was to the magazine that employed me. The first of two articles in the Far
Eastern Economic Review about the oilfields battle drew a bitter complaint from Anil
Ambani that the report was ‘defamatory’-a complaint not sent directly to me, or to the
magazine, but in a letter sent to the head of one of the rival companies, the Australian
resources giant BHP, and copied to the heads of theamerican and Australian diplomatic
missions in New Delhi.
Thereafter, I wrote occasionally about Reliance and, in July 1995, left my job with the
magazine to spend more time on the book. A letter to Dhirubhai Ambani informing him
of this move went unanswered. Over the following 18 months, the research led me into
all corners of Bombay life, from the slum homes of the senii-criminal underworld to the
offices of powerful business tycoons, to several cities and towns in Gujarat on crowded
country buses and trains, to converted churches in London and Leicester ringing with the
Hindu chants of the Gujarati diaspora.
The reception varied. Almost everyone wanted to know if the book was authorised or
sponsored. It was neither, I said, but Ambani had been told and so far had not expressed
to me a view either way about it. Many of those people who knew Dhirubhai Ambani in
his early days in Junagadh and Aden and then starting his business in Bombay were
willing to talk. Some others-such as his former Aden colleague and Middle East coordinator
in Dubai, Bharat kumar Shah, asked for a letter of clearance from Ambani
himself, which again was not forthcoming. One Bombay journalist who agreed to share
his knowledge picked up the telephone immediately I arrived at his flat and rang Anil,
Ainbani’s office. ‘I have told him if you are wanting scandal you will lose the whole
story,’ he said down the phone to the executive who answered. The next day, I was
invited to lunch by a pair of Reliance public relations executives and quizzed closely
about my intentions.
Dhirubhai Ambani did respond to a birthday greeting sent at the end of December 1995,
but there was still no word about his attitude to the book. A month later, however, I flew
especially to Bombay for an interview arranged with his former export manager,
Rathibhai Muchhala, who according to numerous other sources ‘knew everything’ about
the early days. At the appointed time, Muchhala was not at his office in the industrial belt
behind Bombay’s airport. A secretary telephoned him: he was at the Reliance head office.
Muchhala was sorry, but Ambani’s office had advised him not to meet me.
Ambani’s personal assistant, Dinesh Sheth, then confirmed this: there were several
proposals for biographies and some months earlier Dhirubhai Ambani had indicated to
his staff that he did not want at that stage to encourage or co-operate with any of them.
Sheth professed ignorance of my previous letters, so I sent another the next day, offering
to come at any time to discuss the book.
Ironically, the reception among those figures who had been critics or opponents of
Reliance was also wary. Phiroz Vakil, a senior advocate in tiny chambers in Bombay’s
old Fort, surveyed me intently while stuffing Erinmore Flake tobacco into his pipe and
warned that people would suspect I was being used by the Ambanis to draw out
information. Among some others, my earlier favourable write-ups of the Ambanis still
told against me. ‘I suppose you think he’s a hero,’ said the retired Finance Ministry
official and Cabinet Secretary Vinod Pande, down the phone.
Others just seemed too battle-weary When I rang the Orkay Silk Mills chairman Kapal
Mehra and asked to meet him, there was a long pause. ‘I’m afraid that won’t be possible,’
Mehra said. The former prime minister Viswanath Pratap Singh did not reply to a letter
and giggled nervously when I cornered him at a cocktail party in New Delhi. No, he
could not possibly talk about any one company, Singh said, easing away quickly.
Those who did agree to talk for the most part insisted on anonymity: they had to live in
India, they explained. Word of some of these meetings must have been passed back to
Reliance, for in January 1997 a stiff letter arrived from Kanga & Co in Bombay, lawyers
for Dhirubhai Ambani and the company, warn ing that their clients ‘understand and
apprehend that the pro- posed publication contains material which is defamatory to our
client’. It was claimed that ‘at no time’ had there been any attempt to verify the material
with the clients. Action for exem- plary damages and injunction against publication were
threatened if the book was defamatory At this point it had not even been completed, let
alone delivered to the publishers.
Fortunately, the several controversies that hit Reliance in the second half of 1995
produced a deluge of paper from Indian Government agencies. The various reports
opened up many previously obscure and controversial aspects of the company’s
operations. At the same time, the controversies compelled Reli- ance to give its own
explanations, which became part of the public record.
Even so the overall result, unavoidably, has been a book that becomes progressively less
intimate to its subject as the story advances, drawing more on published reports, available
documentation, and anonymous interviews with those who had engaged with Dhirubhai
Ambani and Reliance Industries from the outside. The book is less satisfactory and less
sympathetic, perhaps, than it might have been with co-operation from the Ambanis and
access to them. As my research and writing progressed, however, word came from
several sources that the family was compiling its own record of Dhirubhai Ambani’s life
and his company’s growth, so a version of events from the inside may also be put to the
public soon.

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