India Insight

Ashutosh gears up for Chandni Chowk race; talks about ‘biased’ media

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Aam Aadmi Party’s Ashutosh might have been a TV news host, but now he talks like an experienced politician. “I am enjoying” being on the other side of the microphone, the former managing editor of Hindi news channel IBN7 told India Insight during an interview in which he discussed his decision to stand for Parliament.

It probably won’t be easy. He is taking on Kapil Sibal, a Congress party veteran and influential government minister. Sibal, a two-time member of the Lok Sabha from central Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency, has a knack for landing in controversies. From trying to police social media to trashing a popular upsurge against corrupt politicians in 2011, he often has become a target of public wrath.

Ashutosh, who goes by a single name, said the media is being manipulated by political parties and corporations to make sure that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wins the prime minister’s race in May. Regarding his own former media company Network18, which accepted a large investment from Reliance Industries in 2012 in a complex deal, he had little to say. Nevertheless, he shared his thoughts on how he sees the media now that he is on the other side of the camera. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

Why start your parliamentary race in Chandni Chowk?

For the simple reason because Chandni Chowk is the real Delhi. I don’t mean that rest of Delhi is not Delhi, but that is the real Delhi. The rest of Delhi expanded later on. Secondly, because you know Kapil Sibal. I was tracking the Anna movement for a very long time and I was associated also, informally. Kapil Sibal was the one man who ridiculed the Anna Hazare movement. When you ridicule Anna Hazare movement, that means a spontaneous mass movement was ridiculed by a cabinet minister who happens to be there, like he represents that constituency where this mass movement was happening. So that is insulting in a way democracy.

But you are also an outsider, don’t you think that will affect your prospects?

Third time’s the charm for Mukesh Ambani

Mukesh Ambani(UPDATE: Reliance Industries has gained an overseas foothold by agreeing to pay $1.7 billion to form a joint venture with U.S.-based Atlas Energy. India’s largest-listed firm will pick up a 40 percent stake in Atlas’s operations in the booming Marcellus Shale)

The ruthless efficiency and smooth execution that marked Reliance Industries’ development of the world’s largest refining complex in western India and its vast gas fields off the country’s east coast has eluded the top-listed Indian firm during its recent attempts at overseas takeovers.

Nevertheless, Mukesh Ambani, the world’s fourth-wealthiest man and the chairman of Reliance, is known for his doggedness and is unlikely to backpedal on his overseas ambitions after being rebuffed by two overseas firms — bankrupt petrochemicals maker LyondellBasell and oil sands firm Value Creation.

India’s richest man takes a pay cut

Mukesh Ambani has accepted a two-thirds cut in his salary in 2008/09 as chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries. His total compensation fell 66 percent to 150 million rupees.

The move comes just days after Corporate Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed warned firms against paying huge salaries to top company brass.

Ambani’s “desire to set a personal example of moderation in executive compensation” may be in line with the Congress government’s efforts to shore up public finances with an austerity drive of its own.

Is the media going overboard in its coverage of the Ambani feud?

The war of words between the billionaire Ambani brothers took an unexpected turn when younger sibling Anil offered an olive branch to elder brother Mukesh in a bid to resolve a feud over the split of the Reliance business empire in 2005.

The widespread coverage the Indian media has given to the squabble between the brothers has led to a debate on social networking sites such as Twitter, with some accusing news organisations of playing host to a reality show or soap opera that stars the Ambani family to boost ratings.

Prominent columnist Vir Sanghvi wrote through his Twitter account virsanghvi: “Do you think some network should plan a reality show on the Ambani battle? Or are they doing it already on the news?”

Ambani rivalry spills over at shareholder meeting

Anil Ambani on Tuesday used an annual shareholders’ meeting to lay into his older brother and the government for good measure, over the issue of gas pricing which is at the heart of the most recent spat between the fighting Ambani brothers.

Anil charged Reliance Industries, India’s top private-sector conglomerate run by estranged brother Mukesh, had used every trick in the book, and some outside the book, to feed its “greed”, and was firing from the shoulder of the oil ministry that he claimed was being “partisan”.

The 90-minute diatribe livened up what threatened to be an otherwise staid shareholders’ meeting, with accusations, pleas, emotions, tears and the inevitable invocations of the father, founder Dhirubhai Ambani, whose death helped bring the feud between the two brothers out in the open. All peppered with energetic cries of support from shareholders.

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