Anil Ambani ‘hurt’ by Congress’ statements on Rafale jet deal
Anil Ambani, chairman of the Reliance ADA Group, reached out to the Congress last month, invoking his family’s “respectful relationship” with the Gandhi family over generations to convey his angst about the party functionaries’ “unfortunate statements” about him and his company in the context of Rafale fighter jet deal.
His letter to Randeep Surjewala, in charge of the Congress party’s communication department, came on December 12, the last day of campaigning for the Gujarat assembly polls that was marked by political mud-slinging over the Rafale fighter jet deal.
The opposition party claimed that the NDA government’s deal for procurement of 36 Rafale jets from Dassault, the French manufacturer, caused a “huge loss” to the state exchequer as the previous UPA regime has worked out a cheaper price. It accused the government of changing the deal to benefit “one businessman”.
Rahul Gandhi, Congress vice-president then, attacked the government in a series of tweets in November asking why Prime Minister Narendra Modi “bypassed” Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to give the deal to an “AA rated businessman with no defence experience”.
“Can you explain “Reliance” on someone with nil experience in aerospace for Rafale deal?.... Self “Reliance” is obviously a critical aspect of “Make in India”,” Gandhi said in separate tweets on November 15 last year.
In the letter to Surjewala, Ambani rejected the opposition party’s contention about his company’s lack of experience in aerospace.
“My respected father, late Padma Vibhushan Shri Dhirubhai Ambani, without the benefit of even a formal education, much less than any ‘experience’ or legacy, built the world’s largest petrochemicals and refinery complex here in India and engaged in deep sea exploration on our shores and as a visionary entrepreneur created one of India’s largest enterprises,” wrote the Reliance ADAG chairman.
“In his words ‘you have to be given an opportunity to perform. It’s not experience but mindset, dedication and the purpose, of a strong India that should engage us all.’” he said in the letter. Congress sources said Ambani wrote similar letters to other party leaders, including MPs.
In his letter to Surjewala, Ambani asserted that not only did his firm has the experience but “we are also the leaders in several important areas of defence manufacture”.
To buttress his argument about possessing “significant capabilities” in this sector, he said the Reliance Defence has the largest shipyard at Pipavav in Gujarat and it’s currently building five naval offshore patrol vessels for the Indian Navy and 14 fast patrol vessels for the Indian Coast Guard.
Ambani conveyed to the Congress leader that he was “personally saddened” that several functionaries of the Congress party made unfortunate statements “against me personally and against our group”.
“I fully appreciate that in the midst of the heat and dust of political campaigning, as in the recent context of elections in Gujarat, a lot has often been said. Nonetheless, considering that my entire family and I, starting with my respected father, have had the privilege of enjoying a very respectful relationship with the Gandhi family over generations as well as the Congress party for the past more than four decades, these statements have saddened and hurt our sentiments,” he said in the letter.
He averred that the decision by Dassault to choose Reliance as its JV partner was an independent agreement between two corporate private sector entities and governments had no role to play in that.
Surjewala declined to comment on what he termed “a personal communication”.
“But the fact remains that the government has utterly failed to disclose the price of Rafale aircraft as finalised by the Congress government and as purchased by the NDA, which is stated to be three times the price as originally negotiated. The government has also failed to state the reason for cancelling the offset contract worth Rs40,000 crore to HAL and handing them over to a private entity,” he said.
The Reliance Group didn’t respond to a request seeking comment on the letter.