But mostly, Sundays were generally relaxed days. Government activity was almost shut and a weekend lull used to engulf the corridors of power. Those politicians who were not favoured by media and failed to get space or attention on most days, might attempt to grab attention of journalists on Sundays. They used to succeed to some extent too, because there was no news. The lucky ones would get featured on front page on some Mondays.
But this was not going to be a ‘yet another’ forgettable Sunday. It was sui generis. The emerging titans in India’s business arena, Ambanis, who were by then well entrenched, were to meet a colossus of Indian politics from south India, Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao. The Ambanis –Father and two sons – descended in their own aircraft at Begumpet.
Schedules of VIPs are prepared in advance and the schedule is circulated only to a select few on a need to know and rank basis. Certain slots, when some meetings are sought to be kept secret, are marked as “reserved”. This event was one such “reserved” listing.
As a journalist, I used to have an access to extra information from the CMO, for I had two “deep throats” (sacred pseudonym given to secret informant by Bob Woodward, in All The President’s Men), whose names I can never reveal. These two “Deep Throats” used to work at cross purposes and were very high-profile people. I was not unearthing a scandal of a ‘Watergate-scale’, but I chose to give the same pseudonym for sake of fun and it alludes to the minute detail they used to share with me for obvious reasons. .
Now, I mischievously called a source and was directed to the ‘deep throat’, who leaked confidential info that the time slot was “reserved” for the Ambanis. I immediately began working backwards. A deal between Reliance Industries and AP State government had almost come to fruition – to develop an IT Park in Madhapur area in association with APIIC. Now you can gauge how old Information Technology in Hyderabad was (find reference in antepenultimate paragraph in attached clip).
By then, I had confirmed info that Ambanis were planning a number of projects in AP. All that information was filed in my two “exclusive” stories the next day. Bylines used to be given in newspapers sparingly those days, only for really exclusive stories. It is the Editor’s prerogative and unless he was convinced about exclusivity, Mr PNV Nair, the-then Editor of Deccan Chronicle, would never dole out a byline. On more than an occasion, Mr Nair would deny a byline for stories that were “exclusive and explosive” to conceal identity of a reporter – with a view to protecting the safety and also information on movements of reporters working on a particular story.
Based on information I received from one of the two “deep throats”, I promptly reached the CM’s residence at Road No. 13, Banjara Hills. I was specifically told that there was no scope for a photo session or clicking of random pictures because it was the visiting trio’s precondition. The CM has personally instructed his office to ensure that no photographer, official or media, was present there. The CMO, which usually have the panache for boisterous announcements, however, remained tight lipped and no press release was given about the Ambanis’ meet with the Chief Minister.
Unusual security arrangements had been made on the street leading to the CM’s residence. Since I was covering CMO beat, most security men and police officers were familiar with my face. It was easy for me to cross barricades and reach CM’s residence.
The political atmosphere in AP, more so within TDP, was so inclement that the Government seemed to be tottering. Finance Minister N Chandrababu Naidu was already at daggers drawn with NTR’s wife Lakshmi Parvathi. The party’s internecine feuds used to be a daily feature on front page of newspapers. The discord between Mr Naidu and Ms Parvathi was palpable. Simmering differences used to billow, and unrest within TDP used to get manifested at every forum (in less than 15-20 days, NTR government collapsed and Naidu became CM).
Some senior bureaucrats, including Mr M Gopalakrishnan, apart from CM’s Principal Secretary Mr C S Rao (who later served as Chairman of IRDAI), Secretary Dr N Jayaprakash Narayan, OSD Mr Kode Durga Prasad (IPS), who later went on to serve as the SPG Chief, and a few others were assembled there. Being a Sunday morning, not many were entertained at the CM’s residence.
However, Finance Minister Chandrababu Naidu made it exactly on dot. A minute later, the Ambanis –Dhirubhai, Mukesh and Anil– arrived and were given a rousing reception. They shook hands with NTR and Naidu and a few ministers around. A select few from among those gathered there were ushered in by Mr Naidu and the door was closed. Exactly seven minutes later, the Ambanis emerged out. I was literally loitering there in the visitor’s hall.
As usual, Mr Naidu, on seeing me, smiled at me and I shook hands with him. This was a much-needed key to unlock a potential story in the cooking. I thanked Mr Naidu and quickly moved to Anil Ambani and gave my card. Anil was easy to strike a conversation with. Mukesh seems affable, but he was the “Chairman” material. The father was exchanging pleasantries and talking to senior officials and Mr Naidu. I requested Anil for some time, even as some Reliance officials tried to prevent me reaching out. Quickly Anil, who did not lose sight of Chandrababu Naidu shaking hands with me, whispered in his dad’s ears. He then turned to me and asked me to come to Hotel Krishna Oberoi (now Taj Krishna) for a very brief interaction. In fact, when I began writing the story, I realized Ambanis were competing for the same project the GVK Group was angling to grab. The Ambanis sought to develop an Integrated Project on shores of Bay of Bengal in Krishnapatnam, where GVK group, in association with Besicorp-Brooklyn Inc., was licensed to develop a power project.
I lost no time in starting my scooter and wriggled out of security cordon and reached Oberoi, even before the Ambanis came. I waited in the lobby, for what felt forever, but could not have been more than 10 minutes. The trio arrived and noticed me. Upon instructions of big man Dhirubhai, Anil beckoned me to follow. There were huge security arrangements in place. There were several senior executives of Reliance around too. But I could not ascertain if Mr GVK Reddy was present.
I accompanied the Ambanis to the lounge of their presidential suite. I shook hands with all three. It was a rare spectacle to watch an ensemble of the family of industrial titans. I was overwhelmed. I just didn’t know what to speak.
I asked if they had plans for Krishnapatnam, on which I had confirmed information from “deep throat”. The big man smiled and asked, “how did I know?”. As I was mumbling, he said, “yes”, but at “a very beginning” (nascent stage). “Power plant, port, and a few other facilities… at Krishnapatnam, diamonds exploration and prospecting in Anantapur, Krishna water diversion scheme in Hyderabad, IT Park in Hyderabad with APIIC, and many others at the concept stage,” he added. An official of RIL intervened and requested me to attribute it to Government sources, which I obliged, in my second story.
“I asked Anil to tell you to come here as you could make it to Chief Minister’s residence,” Dirubhai said in Hindi, and smiled. (Maybe he meant that it’s ok to meet me as I wasn’t prevented by anybody to reach the CM’s residence and also that Mr Naidu shook hands with me.) He stood up, signaling my time was up. I stood up and shook hands with them and left. In a few minutes, their carcade zoomed past me towards the Begumpet airport. I rushed to office, on a lazy Hyderabadi Sunday for most, to break another news item.
………….. A. Saye Sekhar ………..