Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Wealth Creation or Crony Capitalism?

from nano to sezs; from aviation to telecom, india inc. is a tale of state patronage

Some time during 1998, the media went into a tizzy. For the unthinkable had happened. First, the Delhi Police raided the office and residence of the Group President of Reliance Industries Ltd. V. Balasubramaniam. There were allegations that Balasubramaniam (or Baalu as the legendary lobbyist of the late Dhirubhai Ambani was famously known) had ‘violated’ the Official Secrets Act. Then again, officials of CBI raided the office of Reliance at Nariman Point in Bombay and even the fabled residence of the Ambanis called Sea Wind. All sorts of rumours flew thick and fast at that time. There were dark whispers that Baalu was in trouble because someone finally had the guts to nail him for getting access to the Union Budget even before it was presented to the Parliament. Most business journalists presumed that to be true; even though the allegations have never been proven. More than the raids, it was the political context of the time that had raised eyebrows across all and sundry. A government led by the BJP with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister was ruling India. Hacks, lobbyists and pundits were writing and talking extensively about how the rise and rise of the BJP and the decline and fall of the Congress had dealt a crippling blow to the ‘connections’ that Dhirubhai Ambani could boast of in New Delhi. Many had thought that the salad days of Reliance Industries, when it comes to getting ‘favourable’ back door benefits from the government at the centre were over.

They were conclusively proven wrong. It was under a BJP-led government in 2001 when Reliance made a classic back door entry into the mobile telephony sector of India – without a valid license! Mobile phone service providers like Bharti cried foul and loudly complained against this unfair treatment and asked for a level playing field. The matter went to the Supreme Court and Reliance was effectively given a back dated license after it agreed to pay a license fee. Then again in 2008, rivals cried foul when Reliance Communications, now led by Anil Ambani, was given licenses for launching GSM services across India. This time under the UPA government, but as we said, that debate is no longer relevant. 

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Source : IIPM Editorial, 2012.
An Initiative of IIPMMalay Chaudhuri

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