Activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal and India's richest person Mukesh Ambani have always stood for different things. At the time of the Anna Hazare movement in 2011, I remember watching Kejriwal speak at Ram Leela Maidan. Wearing a loose shirt and pants he excoriated the then Congress government and corporate bigwigs for their allegedly corrupt practices. One name that figured prominently in his diatribe was that of Mukesh Ambani, whom he accused of stashing black money abroad and of manipulating the government to raise the price of gas from the KG-D6 gas basin in Andhra Pradesh.
Then, when the India Against Corruption movement was dissolved, Kejriwal took his crusade against corruption to the political realm and formed the Aam Aadmi Party in November 2012, his accusations against Ambani intact. When the party fought the Delhi assembly elections, Kejriwal criticised Ambani for wrong business practices in many electoral forums and rallies. AAP's idealism struck a chord with voters and the party won 28 seats out of 70 in an impressive debut.
When Kejriwal became Chief Minister of Delhi in December 2013, one of the first things he did was to ask the anti-corruption bureau to file an FIR against Mukesh Ambani...
When Kejriwal became Chief Minister of Delhi in December 2013, one of the first things he did was to ask the anti-corruption bureau to file an FIR against Mukesh Ambani and then petroleum minister Veerappa Moily. However, in February he resigned from the chief ministership.
Meanwhile, in May 2014, the outgoing Congress government at the Centre decided to increase price of gas production in the KG-D6 basin to $8 a unit by Reliance Industries. The earlier price of $4.2 a unit had expired in April 2014. Arvind Kejriwal wrote a letter to the Election Commission against the modification of price of gas production in the KG-D6 basin and to let new government to take decision. The Election Commission agreed with his view and asked the central government to stop modification in the price of gas of that basin. Arvind Kejriwal increased his tirade against Mukesh Ambani in each and every election rally in May 2014.
Rattled by the relentless attacks, Reliance Industries saw an opportunity to leverage its recent takeover of the Network18 media house. I was working at Reliance at that time. We used to get many mails from HR each day denying charges by "anonymous" groups at that time. To counter the tarnishing of Reliance's public image, Network18 group put into effect a veritable blackout of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aam Party during the general elections in May 2014 (in which AAP's performance was dismal).
To counter the tarnishing of Reliance's public image, Network18 group put into effect a veritable blackout of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aam Party during the general elections.
This blackout extended until the Delhi assembly elections in February, 2015. When it came to covering the polls, channels of the Network18 group broadcast exit polls that went against the projected trends everywhere else. The others, as we know of course, were right and Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party won a historic mandate by bagging 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi.
In the meantime, the relationship between Narendra Modi and Reliance Industries didn't work out as smoothly as Ambani may have expected. Fearing the wrath of the people, the BJP government decided to raise price of gas production to only $5.6 a unit in the KG-D6 basin instead of $8. And when Narendra Modi went on his trip to Japan, his first outside of the subcontinent, Ambani sent his regrets.
While Modi and Ambani seem to be on a firm enough footing again, another equation seems to be forming. On 7 January 2016, the Bengal Global Business Summit was held and attended by a delegate of well-known business magnates. Arvind Kejriwal was also invited by Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to attend the summit. This event marked the first public appearance together by Arvind Kejriwal and Mukesh Ambani.
Speaking in that summit, Arvind Kejriwal invited corporates to invest in Delhi. Network 18 also phased out its ban on the Aam Aadmi Party and regularly features interviews of Kejriwal as well as appearances by various party members in panel discussions.
It is obvious that there are gains to be made by staying in Kejriwal's good books. Nitish Kumar disappeared from national scene soon after taking oath of chief minister of Bihar. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is a reluctant politician. While there is no alternate popular face to take on Narendra Modi in the 2019 elections, Arvind Kejriwal is regularly making headlines and creating a buzz on social media. Being in power, Arvind Kejriwal is also learning to woo investors and his government is taking a lot of steps to ease business in Delhi. Accusing business corporates of malpractices is a thing of the past. It is only reasonable for Ambani to want to improve ties with him. Now what will be really interesting is if corporate giants, upsetting all the calculations of the BJP, back Arvind Kejriwal in the 2019 election.
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