Why is Reliance so Angry - By Sucheta Dalal

RIL thought Modi Govt would be helping them. Doesn't seem to be the case so far on Gas Pricing so far. Keep it up Modi ji and keep it up Kejriwal ji for being the activist against wrong doing.
RIL is shooting off legal notices at the media while government is not yet doing its bidding

At its annual general meeting (AGM) in June this year, Mukesh Ambani spelt out the mega vision and global plans for India’s largest private sector company. Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) rides India’s economy with a giant presence in multiple areas. Yet, unlike a decade ago, the chairman’s speech never once harped on how it is the ‘world’s biggest’ in any of its areas of operation.

Maybe RIL has turned quietly confident, or maybe it finds it prudent not to tom-tom its giant footprint across four areas that are core to India’s economy—oil & gas; petroleum refining and downstream petrochemicals products (where RIL ‘enjoys global rankings’ in most categories including the largest gas cracker in the world and the largest refinery system at one location with integrated logistics); retailing, where it is fast moving to market leadership in a slew of categories including food, apparel and household products; and telecom, where it wants to be a global leader in delivery of digital content, applications and services.

RIL’s AGM is also no longer the mega-event it used to be in the mid-1980s for investors or the media. In fact, the much smaller Infosys receives significantly greater coverage for every change and announcement that it makes, probably because investors are more interested in it. It could also be the fact that, at every step, Reliance is dogged by controversy and, over the past two years, has spent more time alienating the media.

The big change in sentiment began around the time that the maverick Arvind Kejriwal decided to fast-track his political career by setting up David vs Goliath situations with mixed results. He was spectacularly successful in the city-state of Delhi by accusing a three-time chief minister Sheila Dixit of corruption and mismanagement. It was an exaggerated charge but worked with the masses; Mr Kejriwal dropped the allegations as soon as his mission was accomplished.

In business, he targeted Mukesh Ambani and the mighty Reliance group. He created the initial shock and awe with his allegations and attracted an army of impressionable, but passionate, youngsters. He also impressed a core support base of important editors and top television anchors who were integral to the stupendous support and sympathetic coverage that Mr Kejriwal’s anti-corruption agitation received. But more about that later.

When it came to politics, a charitable view would be that Mr Kejriwal quickly realised that the 2014 elections were not about the blundering incompetence, arrogance and corruption of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and chose to target Narendra Modi instead. Or, that he was squeamish about attacking Sonia Gandhi whose trust and confidence he had enjoyed earlier. The mistake of this strategy is not the subject of this column. Let us focus instead on Mr Kejriwal’s entire negative campaign plank—that Narendra Modi was in cahoots with industry, especially Reliance, and would work to their benefit, if elected.

Forty days after forming government with a historical mandate, none of Mr Kejriwal’s allegations have come true. Instead, we have a raft of positive decisions from Modi sarkar starting with disciplining government employees and powerful bureaucrats. Meanwhile, the bad news keeps dribbling out for India’s largest corporate group. The gas price hike, which was projected as the first possible move of the Modi government, has been postponed. Reliance has reacted by announcing that it will defer investments in developing newer fields like R-Cluster in KG-D6 block if the government does not hike gas prices to make production from them economically viable.

Reliance has also made news for these wrong reasons:

• The Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) rejected RIL’s attempt to compel the Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to settle an insider trading charge dating back to 2007 by filing consent terms. This would allow it to pay a fat fine without admitting to wrongdoing on the charge that is made an unjustified profit of over Rs500 crore by short-selling shares in the futures market.

• The Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) has recommended cancellation of its 4G licence and spectrum allocation, alleging wrongdoing in fixing the eligibility criteria in the bidding process. Infotel Broadband Services Pvt Ltd (promoted by the controversial Himachal Futuristic Communications group) had won a pan-India 4G licence by bidding 5,000 times its net worth and was acquired by Reliance within hours of winning the bid, leading to obvious conclusions. It has been renamed Reliance Jio and is leading RIL’s telecom foray. The CAG’s draft report says that the vitiation of the auction process gave Reliance Jio Infocomm a Rs22,842-crore windfall. RIL has strongly denied CAG’s contentions and the department of telecommunications (DoT) has also supported it. Incidentally, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has demanded a CBI inquiry into this issue and has also filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court.

• RIL’s 4G services, that are supposed to revolutionise how we talk, view and share data, will be rolled out only in 2015. Mukesh Ambani announced a Rs70,000-crore investment for this business. Industry experts say that the lack of adequate, inexpensive devices and an ‘ecosystem’ to make 4G workable is an issue. RIL was planning to flood the market with cheap tablets and providing voice telephony free. Meanwhile, Mr Kejriwal has probably succeeded in forcing RIL to complete its Rs4000-crore investment in TV18 group (along with the ETV group). Those in the know say that RIL was primarily interested in the TV18 group’s content (TV, web properties and print products) for the 4G business. But its hand was forced when a string of AAP spokespersons kept up the unsubstantiated allegations against Mukesh Ambani and RIL as an indirect attack on Narendra Modi. That strategy seems to have boomeranged. It only acted as a strong rallying point for Narendra Modi’s supporters while hurting the top editors and television anchors who wore their support and sympathy for AAP on their sleeve.

• Mr Ambani, who has been awkward in handling the media, is not winning any friends by reacting like a wounded tiger. It has shot off multiple legal notices to journalists across the media for their reportage on gas pricing and other issues (including two to Moneylife editors). More importantly, it probably made history as the first media owner to slap defamation notices on its own editor-in-chief who is an employee and shareholder.

• Finally, the group, which was known for its powerful but hidden media influence, has hired a team of senior journalists to communicate its point of view directly to the public. These journalists sporadically battle critics on twitter and churn out YouTube videos and content on facebook and slideshare to explain and refute AAP’s many allegations on social media. A 56-page coffee table book called Flame of Truth has been produced as a counter to the Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s 588-page Gas Wars which the company described as a ‘pamphlet’. Flame of Truth presents RIL’s view on gas pricing and exploration. Its highlight is a case study by the late CK Prahlad and RA Mashelkar.

Is any of it working? As a business journalist for three decades, I have learnt that public interest is superficial and rarely goes beyond a snapshot perspective about whether an issue is good or bad. Even in the Gas Wars case, while RIL has succeeded in silencing some media houses, there is now a paperback edition of the book; neither Flipkart nor Amazon have stopped sales and it continues to be discussed in social media.

None of this is good for anybody. Appearing to gag free speech by using its enormous financial clout bodes ill for RIL. No government can be seen to support this attitude—especially one that has promised better days to the people. But when this aggressive and negative strategy fails to work, it does even more damage to RIL itself. more  

View all 11 comments Below 11 comments
Apt point of view....
Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone more  
Excellent! RIL targeting AAP, seeking to build public opinion in its favour thru set up journalists, govt, cleverly, keeping a low profile, nudging RIL to be patient. The background, heavy election expenses, financier ( RIL ) demanding pay back, AAP making allegations against both. Unless something out of the ordinary happens, over a period of time, the first two stand to lose & the third-AAP-stands to gain. more  
Dear Mr. Pramendra
You are right. Mr. Modi must be waiting for assembly elections later this year, essential for increasing BJP tally in Rajya Sabha as well. more  
Nice article by Sucheta dalala, posted by Shikha, but sorry to say, its too early to refute AAP's allegations. Time will tell the story later, say in two years time. what you are just seeing is a political gimmick to down turn the 'fingers pointed by AAP prior to election'. Modi sarkar is conscious of making decision in favour of Ambani's too quickly and immediately after election as advantage goes to AAP - its obvious using common sense. As Ambani's threatening to stop investing in new facilities if gas price not hiked, Government shall later bow against them as for Modi's no other option than bowing against Ambanis - though there are seevral options to get away with Ambanis Home loot and offer MNC's to invest in India honestly, but probabaly Modi sarkar wouldn't be able to justify that - For them national looters better than foreign businesses. By that time people will forget the preceding stories or start accepting the unavoidable.

Of course politicians know the volatile memory of people and they want people to forget it for a while. Another tactics politicians use is to dissuade the attention of people by 'pseudo reasoning', such as after election won by Modi sarkar, fearing price rises of foods, Impact of El Nino was projected high to veil the actual reasons of food price inflations. Arrival of mansoon in full swing has eliminated any possibility of threats from el nino anymore, so what next ?

Having said that Modi's support to Ambani's has already been confirmed by govt decision to raise gas prices by rs 10 every month (as i heard from a friend but not verified myself). this means rs 120 rise in a year or 15% annual hike in gas price).
forget not the common sense, why industries would donate to Modi sarkar, and for what? of course for undue returns, as done by congress. And also no need to remind that 30% criminal and corrupt MP's in modi sarkar have not joined the 'winning government for social services'.
Wait for two years to see:
- food prices go up by 40-50% due to fertilizers cost increases.
- Fuel prices and there fore inflation too go up by 10-15% as gas prices directly effect the profitability comparatives in other fuel sectors. If Investor can make a windfall profit by excavating natural gas and sell it at price of LNG without having to invest billions of dollars required to liquefy NG, transport in special cryogenic container, and re-gassify, then why not...make money without investment, as Ambani's trying.

Wait and watch for two years or more before being judgmental. more  
You are absolutely right, Mr. Guha. We have become used to slavery, & we will continue.
May God Save Us! more  
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