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Friend of foe? Wait and watch

Saturday 26 May 2007, by BAKSHI*Veeshal

Not all of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s corporate buddies have to fear the new dispensation. Mayawati knows that goodwill of the industrialists is essential for economic growth, says Veeshal Bakshi

In the ruthless world of politics and business, there are no permanent friends and enemies. For now, the adage may not hold true in Uttar Pradesh. There is no love lost between the victorious Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and vanquished Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh. At a press conference held within two hours of taking oath as chief minister on May 13, Mayawati declared she had cancelled all decisions taken by the Mulayam Singh government after elections were announced in Uttar Pradesh in February.

Though she made it clear that her government will not pursue a politics of vendetta against Mulayam Singh and the bureaucrats who wielded power during his tenure, she also made it a point to declare a review of key policy decisions taken by her predecessor and action against inefficient and corrupt bureaucrats.

This could spell trouble for some corporate houses who openly flaunted their association with Mulayam Singh’s trusted lieutenant and networker-par-excellence, Amar Singh. The Uttar Pradesh Development Council, which was headed by Singh and packed with his close friends like Anil Ambani, Adi Godrej, Subrata Roy and Amitabh Bachchan, has already been consigned to the dustbin.

A vindictive attitude towards corporate houses that did big business under Amar Singh’s patronage could scare other investors away. Mayawati may temper her aggression with caution Singh’s friends in the business world can be divided into two groups. The first group comprises big business barons like Ambani, Godrej and Subrata Roy of the Sahara group, all considered extremely close to him. The second group comprises industrialists like Kushagra Bajaj of Bajaj Hindustan, Ramesh Chandra of Unitech Ltd, Vinay Maloo of Himachal Futuristic Communication Ltd (HFCL), Ashok Chaturvedi of Uflex Industries (until recently known as Flex Industries), US Bhartia of India Glycols, Bhushan Uppal of the Uppal group and Ponty Chadha of the Chadha group. Except Vinay Maloo, the rest in the second group have substantial business interests in Uttar Pradesh and flourished during the Mulayam Singh regime.

The only big industrial house with whom Singh has had a love-hate relationship over the last four years is the Jaypee group. Singh fell out with the group’s promoter Jaiprakash Gaur after Mayawati allotted the Noida-Agra ‘Taj Expressway’ project to his flagship company, Jaiprakash Associates, during her last tenure. The Mulayam Singh government stalled the project soon after it came to power. The issue ended up in the courts. However, over the last one year or so, both the sides patched up and not only was the Jaypee group’s Taj Expressway project revived but one of his group companies also acquired a state-owned ailing mining company. Gaur, however, is not expected to suffer at the hands of Mayawati as he is still known to enjoy a comfortable relationship with her.

Sources close to Mayawati say development is high on her agenda this time and her party general secretary Satish Mishra is expected to play a big role. Mishra, a former advocate general of the state, is believed to be the man behind the new avatar of Mayawati as a more mature leader. The Brahmin face of the party, he successfully implemented the Brahmin-Dalit combination strategy. He is expected to be the interface between the big industrialists and the Mayawati government.

If Mayawati has to develop the state’s economy and generate employment, she has to bring in investment in industry and infrastructure projects. A vindictive attitude towards corporate houses that did business under Amar Singh’s patronage could scare other investors away. She may, therefore, temper her aggression with caution by targeting only those industrialists who are very close to Amar Singh.

One of Singh’s closest friends, Uflex chairman Ashok Chaturvedi, is already under the Centre’s scanner, with the Income Tax department having conducted two raids on him in the last 18 months. He has also been raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation and featured prominently in the list of persons, released by the Congress, who were allotted prime plots of land in Noida.

It seems curtains for Anil Ambani’s ambitious power projects in the state. Sahara group’s massive Sahara Shahar (city) project proposal in Lucknow may also not get government approval.

Some sugar barons in the state, who got big concessions during Mulayam Singh’s tenure, are a worried lot. Corporate circles will closely watch the Mayawati government’s attitude towards big players like Kushagra Bajaj to gauge the impact on the industry.

Mayawati does not have many friends in the corporate world. But businessmen are known to seize business opportunities quickly. Lucknow’s corridors are all set to be frequented by a new set of industrialists, encouraged by the fact that UP has a single-party government after 14 years.

See online : Tehelka

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