Guest Column

‘The businessman should be a rajput, son of the ruler,’ is an old Marwari saying. It is true as any businessman will endorse, of course off the record, that developing political connections is important for successful and profitable business. In the past, the businessman harboured politicians for benefit but today they actively facilitate politics. It has become all the more necessary because political influence and connections have become critical for basics of business like land acquisition, water connections, licences and permits.

 It was confirmed by late Hotelier CP Krishnan Nair, who died in April 2014, by narrating a personal experience to a Business Standard correspondent. Just after independence, Nair was working for his father-in-law who was in the handloom business. He came to Delhi to get government favours for handloom industry. But Jawaharlal Nehru, the then prime minister, only wanted to support capital-intensive projects and something as low-tech as handloom was not his priority. He was suggested to meet Govind Ballabh Pant, the influential home minister after Sardar Patel. Nair met him in the morning and told him that he wanted to modernise the industry and for that he wanted government’s support. Pant called up the PM immediately and the word ‘modernise’ worked like magic. Nehru accepted the suggestion for a one paisa tax on every yard of mill-made textile. The annual revenue of Rs 300 crore was used to upgrade the handloom sector, benefitting Nair’s business substantially.

 This has been corroborated by Sanjaya Baru in The Accidental Prime Minister. During the Kargil war of 1999, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf had kept a line of communication open. Musharraf's trusted aide was Tariq Aziz, a former income tax officer. R K Mishra of the Observer Research Foundation (that belongs to Reliance) carried messages from Vajpayee and his advisor, Brajesh Mishra to him. The two were old-time friends and used to meet secretly and exchange messages. "Mishra (RK) also doubled up as Reliance Industries Chairman Dhirubhai Ambani's aide, seeking assurances from the Pakistanis that they would not bomb Reliance's Jamnagar plant," Baru writes.

 Most recently, well-known television journalist Barkha Dutt in her recently published book, This Unquiet Land — Stories from India’s Fault Lines, has revealed that Indian steel magnate Sajjan Jindal, brother of former Congress MP Naveen Jindal, facilitated an hour-long secret meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Kathmandu in November 2014. She writes that when everyone believed that the two were not seeing eye-to-eye, Jindal served as a “covert bridge” and was able to “keep them connected even when things got difficult.” In fact, Jindal was able to host a tea party for Sharif after his meeting with Modi in Delhi when he came in for the swearing-in. Jindal, a steelmaker, wanted friendly relations with Pakistan to boost his business by transporting “iron ore from Afghanistan by road across Pakistan from where it could be shipped to ports in western and southern India,” Dutt writes.

 

Dr. Y. C. Halan, is the former Resident Editor of The Financial Express and Editor of HT Investor and Business & Management Chronicle.