Mukesh Ambani's endorsement: Milind is the man

The expression of solidarity drew attention because it came from Mukesh, that too when the Congress has targeted his brother Anil in the Rafale deal

By Our Bureau in New Delhi
  • Published 19.04.19, 6:50 AM
  • Updated 19.04.19, 6:50 AM
  • 3 mins read
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Mukesh Ambani A Telegraph picture

Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani has endorsed Congress candidate Milind Deora by saying “Milind is the man for South Mumbai”.

The expression of solidarity drew intense attention, not merely because of the profile of the endorser but also because Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been targeting Mukesh’s brother Anil Ambani in the Rafale scandal.

Sources cautioned against reading too much political meaning into Mukesh’s endorsement, pointing at the long association between the Ambanis and the Deoras.

Senior Congress leaders said off the record that the industrialists’ attitude was no longer the same as in 2014 and that many of them were now privately critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But the Congress leaders insisted that the endorsement for Milind should not be taken as evidence of a shift.

Milind shared a video on his Twitter page that shows Mukesh saying: “Milind is the man for South Mumbai…. Having represented South Bombay for 10 years, I believe Milind has in-depth knowledge of social, economic and cultural eco-system of the south Bombay constituency.”

The video also shows banker Uday Kotak endorsing Milind. The young Congress leader is pitted against the Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant, who defeated him from the constituency in 2014. Mumbai South votes on April 29.

The video clip seeks to dovetail a business-friendly theme with the need to create jobs — a prime poll plank of the Congress. Business barons, along with small shopkeepers and hawkers, are seen endorsing Milind’s candidacy.

Milind posted the video with the message: “From small shopkeepers to large industrialists — for everyone, South Mumbai means business. We need to bring businesses back to Mumbai and make job creation for our youth a top priority.”

In spite of the close family ties between the Ambanis and Deoras, it was difficult for many not to view Mukesh’s “Milind is the man” statement against the political backdrop, especially since the industrialist had not issued any such unequivocal endorsement in 2014.

Milind Deora
Milind Deora A Telegraph picture

Most big industrialists had publicly supported Modi in 2014 and there is a perception that large sections of the corporate world continue to back him.

Rahul’s strident posturing against crony capitalism and his argument that the government has worked for the 10 to 15 richest industrialists has cemented this perception but Congress sources claim the 2019 situation isn’t comparable to that of 2014. They say the majority of industrialists are unhappy with the government’s performance and would like to stay neutral this time.

The Ambanis have had close ties with the Deoras since the mid-seventies when Dhirubhai Ambani, the Reliance patriarch and Mukesh’s father, was a fiercely ambitious yarn trader who would travel to Delhi with yarn trader-turned-politician Murli Deora, Milind’s father.

Murli, who was rising up the echelons of the Congress in Mumbai, soon became head of the Bombay Municipal Corporation and went on to represent the South Mumbai constituency in the Lok Sabha for many years, gaining heft and influence among the leading industrialists in the country.

Australian journalist Hamish MacDonald recalled in his book The Polyester Prince how close Dhirubhai and Murli Deora were. “Dhirubhai and Deora used to catch an early flight up to Delhi, and park their bags with a sympathetic clerk at Ashoka Hotel while they did their rounds of politicians and bureaucrats to speed up decisions on import licences. Too poor to afford an overnight stay, they would collect their bags and fly back to Bombay the same evening.”

When the battle between the Ambani scions broke out in 2005, Murli had tried to intercede and strike a truce between the brothers but failed. Later, when Bombay High Court upheld Anil’s claim to disputed gas from the Reliance gas fields in the Krishna-Godavari basin, Murli, as petroleum minister, filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court to assert the government’s right over the gas.

The apex court upheld the Centre’s stand and effectively overturned the Bombay High Court verdict. It would later prove to be a pyrrhic victory for Mukesh as his rights to the gas were also undermined. In the end, it didn’t matter since the gas field virtually stopped production by 2012. But Murli’s intervention further cemented the relationship between Mukesh and the Deoras.