Taking on RIL, is Kejriwal fighting on too many fronts?

Only time, and the new CM’s power of conviction to pursue the case till its logical conclusion, can tell

trithesh

Trithesh Nandan | February 13, 2014




In his 33 years in Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL), Mukesh D Ambani, India’s richest man and head of one the country’s biggest corporate entities, has earned numerous accolades. Several such paeans are listed on Reliance’s website. Here’s one, among others: “Ambani’s vision of energy security for India was being realised.”

That vision might just be knocking on Ambani’s doors. How was this energy security promoted?

In less than eight weeks as the as Delhi chief minister, that’s one of the many questions Arvind Kejriwal has posed – to the central government, its ministers, the traditional politicians from traditional parties (the Congress and the BJP more than anyone else), the traditional media, the corporate houses. Now comes the salvo against the RIL boss.

Accusing the company of engaging in murky deals in collaboration with a handful of bureaucrats and politicians, Kejriwal said the latter were very active in helping Ambani's dream of minting money through the “great energy dream”.

While Mumbai police could not follow up on the infamous ‘Aston Martin case’ – in which the speeding luxury car owned by Reliance, and alleged to be driven by someone close to the Ambani family, hit a couple of cars late one December night in south Mumbai – for lack of witnesses (at least one key witness, in fact, changed her statement), the anti-corruption branch of Delhi lodged an FIR against Ambani on the gas price issue late Tuesday (February 11). Cases were also registered against former and current petroleum ministers Murli Deora and Veerappa Moily and retired director-general of hydrocarbons VK Sibal.

They were charged under Section 13 (1) (c) and (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 420 (cheating) of Indian Penal Code.

It should not surprise many who have followed the activist-turned-politician’s career, however. For, Kejriwal had questioned the Reliance gas deals long before he had even started campaigning for the Delhi assembly elections, let alone becoming CM of the city-state. Remember his comment made not long back? “Mukesh Ambani runs the government, not the prime minister.”

In circumstances normal or otherwise, it would never have been an easy task to file an FIR against India's top industrialist and richest Indian, who was the posterboy of the post-liberalisation phase. For the last few years, parliamentarians like Tapan Sen of CPI(M) and Gurudas Dasgupta of CPI have written several letters to the prime minister on how RIL was allowed windfall revenue from KG D6 gas basin, but with no reaction from the UPA government.

But the wind seems to be changing now in Indian politics. In 2011, the comptroller and auditor general had accused RIL of violating the terms of contract for the KG-D6 block, but the institution did not talk about loss to the exchequer or its impact on gas price. And the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) government in Delhi is directly taking on bigwigs corporate and what the party calls “dealmakers”.

"The gas prices have been hiked with the sole intention of benefitting the RIL and no attempt was made to determine the cost of production independently and accurately," said Arvind Kejriwal at a press conference on Tuesday, the day he ordered an FIR to be registered against these persons. Kejriwal also wrote to the prime minister, seeking to defer the decision to hike the gas prices effective from April 1.

But another question, even as critics call the latest FIR just another ‘drama’ to be in media spotlight, is: is Kejriwal opening up too many fronts? Even Kejriwal’s colleague and senior AAP leader Yogendra Yadav has admitted as much – that the party may be trying too many things too fast. “I do feel we have tried too much. Anxiety, the pressure of being in public gaze, has created artificial pressure on the government. We have a lot to learn," he had said in a recent television interview.

In past, politicians have taken on corruption. Remember VP Singh on Bofors? But most never came to a logical conclusion. Can Kejriwal be different? Only time, and the new CM’s power of conviction to pursue the case, can tell.

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