Rediff Logo Business HCL Infosystems Banner Find/Feedback/Site Index
June 16, 1998


Infac Banner

Send this story to a friend

When politicians caught up with each other

A K Diwanji

For Dhirubhai Ambani, the honour must have been very sweet indeed. An award from the oldest business management school, Wharton, itself part of an Ivy League university, Pennsylvania, is a long journey!

Arjun Singh, Sharad Pawar and Natwar Singh Ambani does not boast ancestors who dined with the Father of the Indian Nation or an ancestor who went on to create one. There are many who, with justification, believe that the class-conscious Indian businessmen have never really accepted Ambani among their creed.

Amazingly, at a function meant to honour India's tallest business leader, businessmen were just a handful -- A V Birla Group Chairman Kumaramangalam Birla, Godrej Soaps Chairman Adi Godrej, Piramal Group Chairman Ajay Piramal, Confederation of Indian Industry President Rajesh Shah, Mahindra and Mahindra Chairman Keshub Mahindra. Incidentally, Mahindra and Godrej are alumni of the Wharton School, as is Anil Ambani, Dhirubhai's younger son.

Piramal agreed that it was strange that more captains of industry did not turn up. What could be the reason? "Who really knows," he said, "maybe they aren't happy with Ambani's great success!" Piramal said personally, he considered it a proud moment for India.

For many years, Business Indiamagazine, which annually awards a 'Businessman of the Year' title, had consistently refused to give that honour to Dhirubhai.

Raj Babbar and Ajeya Singh Many saw it as an unwillingness of those born rich to accept this parvenu in their midst. While Dhirubhai was finally given the award a few years ago, the discrimination certainly rankled. With the Wharton School medal now putting him in a different league altogether, he had reason to smile.

Moreover, in the recent past, Dhirubhai is known to have not been part of the Bombay Club that demanded greater protection for Indian businessmen. On the contrary, he is one industrialist who has welcomed liberalisation and globalisation, saying Reliance is prepared for the challenge. Again, not something that will endear him to swadeshi-loving businessmen.

Dhirubhai accepted every greeting that came his way after the awards ceremony was over, sitting patiently on a chair shaking hands with his left hand -- the February 9, 1986 stroke paralysed his right hand. Mukesh and Anil Ambani were busy playing the perfect hosts while assisting their father meet his numerous well-wishers. More than Dhirubhai, many of his old friends seemed overwhelmed at this chance to meet the business legend himself.

P Chidambaram with Sitaram Kesri Ambani is known to be close to politicians of every hue. The presence of so many of them lends credence to this. At the gala function were well-known and not-so-well-known politicians from every major party (except the Communist parties, of course).

Also present were film stars-turned-politicians-turned-film stars Amitabh Bachchan and his wife, Jaya, besides film-stars-turned- politicians Vinod Khanna and Raj Babbar. While the latter were seen talking to each other, the Big B and his wife left as soon as the speeches were over. So did some of the big politicians such as Sharad Pawar, Palaniappan Chidambaram, and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The organiser of the evening was one of Dhirubhai's oldest friends, Congress MP Murli Deora. Perhaps this explained why there were more Congress leaders than any other! And to the utter amazement of many, especially the media corps, he seemed hellbent on giving politicians opportunities to felicitate Ambani rather than the businessmen present.

Najma Heptullah While calling some expected names to speak -- such as former finance minister Chidambaram, Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, Union Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, et al -- he surprised many by calling on Arjun Singh to speak.

Later, when queried on why so many politicians were given a platform, he replied, "Forget businessmen, yaar, even I am a businessman." True, but he has been more a politician, and that was clear to one and all.

During dinner, politicians spent more time exchanging notes with each other. Buta Singh, who recently resigned as minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, disclaimed any fight with Pramod Mahajan. "We have known each other for so long, how can there be any trouble between us," he asked. He dismissed with a smile queries on whether he had filed a criminal case against Mahajan, as he had promised to do.

P Chidambaram with Tina Ambani In another corner, Murli Manohar Joshi exchanged quick notes with BJP bete noire Shankersinh Vaghela. But conscious of the prying media, it was all too brief as both went their separate ways.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno A Sangma, extremely popular for his charm and wit, and his willingness to imbibe whisky without the typical Congressman's abstinence, was another sought-after politician. He gave on-the-spot television interviews, praised Dhirubhai and criticised the BJP.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda

Tell us what you think of this report