Though almost every politician of any consequence knew Dhirubhai Ambani well, few had the courage to admit it publicly. But a year after his death, on a rain-swept day in Mumbai, it was time for some of India’s top politicians to acknowledge the enormous influence and contribution of the late Reliance group patriarch. The occasion: the first Dhirubhai Ambani Memorial Lecture, delivered by APJ Abdul Kalam, the President of India.
But the spotlight was clearly on Arun Shourie, former firebrand journalist and now iconic minister for disinvestment, communication and information technology in the Vajpayee government. Clearly not your typical “politician- minister”, Mr Shourie recalled how his “acquaintance with Dhirubhai went through an almost 180-degree turn over the years.”
Mr Shourie’s brief but brilliant speech, peppered with anecdotes, came even as top political bosses of all hues and affiliations — from Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to former finance minister Manmohan Singh to Digvijay Singh to Mulayam Singh, Maharashtra chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal — paid tribute to the spirit of Dhirubhai Ambani, with most of them candidly acknowledging the close relationship they shared with the man.
Said Mr Shourie: “I first learnt about him through the articles of my colleague S Gurumurthy. The point of most of the articles was that Reliance had done something in excess of what had been licensed, it was producing in excess of that capacity.” And then, he explained how times had changed: “Most would say today that those restrictions and conditions should not have been there in the first place, that they are what held the country back. And that the Dhirubhais are to be thanked, not once but twice over: they set up world class companies and facilities in spite of those regulations, and thus laid the foundations for the growth all of us claim credit for today...”
“Second, by exceeding the limits in which those restrictions sought to impound them, they helped create the case for scrapping those regulations, they helped make the case for reforms,” Mr Shourie said.
Admitting to having faced “unbelievable pressures” to have Reliance disqualified in the divestment process for petrochemicals company Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd (IPCL), he said: “From those days to the day Reliance won the bid for IPCL, the price per share was Rs 100 or Rs 200. Dhirubhai bid Rs 231 per share. He won — his bid was almost twice that of