Even after withdrawing its support, the Left continues to hector the UPA government. The latest provocation is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with Mukesh Ambani, who is having an ongoing conflict with his younger brother, Anil. The Left disapproves of Mr Singh being asked to mediate between the warring siblings. For starters, the Prime Minister does not need the Left’s permission on whom to meet. As a matter of fact, he regularly interacts with corporate leaders. But this hardly implies that he gets involved in their affairs as an arbiter-at-large. Steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal had also met Mr Singh when he was fighting a takeover battle. But it hardly follows that the PM batted for him.
Corporate leaders frequently meet political leaders to lobby for their industries. That is their job. Ahead of the Union Budget, there is normally a flurry of lobbying for tax breaks and exemptions. This is par for the course for the government. There is also a segment of Big Business that is still ambivalent regarding liberalisation, although they make it a point to applaud whatever liberal policies the government enunciates as ‘historic’. Deep down, they use their political support to dilute reforms. So, the PM’s meeting with business leaders is routine.
That said, greater transparency in such high-level meetings is imperative. Business stalwarts such as G.D. Birla, J.R.D. Tata and Walchand Hirachand were different from the present crop of industrialists. As Mr Singh noted not so long ago, these luminaries were no crony capitalists; no fixers and lobbyists; no petitioners and permit-seekers, nor seekers of subsidies. Unfortunately, despite reform, Big Business today is perceived to be different with its penchant for ‘special interest demands’. Mr Singh’s meeting with Mukesh Ambani was regarding the demand for a windfall profit tax on his company. The Left, however, as is its wont, (mis)interprets it as a ‘mediation’ effort in an ongoing corporate war. Let’s not get all paranoid about it.