The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Anil case lands in CM court
- 40-minute chat on airport row

Calcutta, Feb. 10: Anil Dhirubhai Ambani spoke of his father’s “special love and affection” for Jyoti Basu and sought the “blessings” of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

He also “discussed at length” airport modernisation with the Bengal chief minister.

After wrapping up his official engagement in the city ' signing an agreement to set up Bengal’s first private university ' Ambani held a 40-minute one-on-one with Bhattacharjee in the ante chamber.

The meeting put in motion efforts to find a common ground between the younger Ambani’s battle against the award of modernisation contracts and the Left’s overall campaign against the process.

Ambani, whose Reliance Airport Developers lost the bids to modernise the Mumbai and Delhi airports, explained to the chief minister the “unethical and improper aspects” in the award of the projects. He also referred to the circumstances that led him to move court, challenging the selection process, sources said.

The chief minister did confirm that the airport modernisation ' which the Left has been describing as privatisation since the private consortium will hold the majority stake in a joint venture that will run the airports ' figured in their talks.

“We did discuss at length the airports privatisation issue, but the details cannot be disclosed at this point,” Bhattacharjee said.

The sources said the Reliance scion urged Bhattacharjee to engage the Centre’s attention to what he dubbed questionable aspects of the selection of bidders and the awarding of contracts.

After signing the memorandum of understanding to set up the information technology institution in Kalyani and promising to get it up and running in 18 months, Ambani had publicly sought Bhattacharjee’s “blessings” for the Rs 100-crore venture.

Ambani, who also fondly recalled his father’s admiration for Jyoti Basu, had tentatively scheduled meetings with the veteran CPM leader and party general secretary Prakash Karat but the engagements did not come about for want of time. However, Ambani did manage to get an opportunity to put across his view through the long interaction with Bhattacharjee.

Ambani’s meeting with a CPM leader ' though Bhattacharjee met him in the capacity of chief minister ' is striking not just because it is unusual for a high-profile industrialist and an equally prominent communist to discuss an issue that is being seen as a turning point in the Centre’s efforts to press ahead with its economic policies.

Bhattacharjee is keen on modernising Calcutta airport, and the Centre is thinking in terms of following either the public-private partnership route or getting the Airports Authority of India involved.

It will be difficult for the CPM to publicly support Ambani because the party has opposed the primacy of the private player while Ambani has only objected to the process by which the winning bids were picked. But any sympathetic gesture from Bhattacharjee would be a bonus for Ambani.

Almost simultaneously at the politburo meeting, the Citu bloc pressed the leadership to adopt a harsher line while dealing with the Centre on airports.

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