The bidding war over Hutchison Essar acquired fresh momentum on Wednesday with the visit of Arun Sarin the CEO of Vodafone to India.
Vodafone leads the pack of those keen to pick up Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd's (HTIL) 67 per cent stake in Hutch Essar.
Sarin held meetings with Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Minister for Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath and Communications Minister Dayanidhi Maran, ostensibly to gauge the attitude of the Indian government to its effort to enhance its presence in India.
Sarin is understood to have told all the three leaders that Vodafone was ready to join hands with Essar to pick up the stake in Hutch Essar.
During his meeting with Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, the chief of European telecom major is understood to have discussed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy in telecom sector, besides regulatory issues as well.
Sources who were present at the meeting said that the Minister told Sarin that the deal should be gone about in a transparent manner in accordance with best commercial practices and in the best interest of all stakeholders.
Speaking to the reporters after the meeting, Sarin said the talks were “fruitful" and that "formal bidding was still a few weeks away."
When quizzed about the bid being made by the end of January, he said, "Later than that." He added he found no ambiguity in India's FDI regulations.
Sarin later in the evening met Maran and informed him on the benefits that Vodafone offers to its customers worldwide. He is also understood to have discussed the possible sale of 10 per cent stake Vodafone currently holds in Bharti, since the licence condition stipulate that no single promoter can hold more than 10 per cent stake in the same circle.
About 30 minutes prior to Sarin’s meeting with Maran, Sunil Bharti Mittal chairman and managing director of Bharti Enterprises met the Communications Minister. When asked about the discussions with Maran, Mittal told Hindustan Times, “I cannot comment on the discussions.”
Earlier in the day, Essar vice-chairman Ravi Ruia, met Finance Minister P Chidambaram separately. Essar is also bid for 67 per cent stake of HTIL in Hutch Essar Ltd (HEL),
Communications Minister Dayanidhi Maran told agencies: "We want good (foreign telecom) players to come to India."