The Moily Mishaps
Why Moily Matters
Delhi’s Shastri Bhavan, home to the petroleum and natural gas ministry, easily gets the award for the most paranoid ‘corridors of power’ complex in a city that specialises in Machiavellian intrigue. The corridors here may be spotless clean, but somebody is always watching and everyone seems to have something to hide and/or file jottings to sell. A business editor recalls getting a call from a senior Reliance Industries executive exactly a minute before he stepped into the then petroleum minister’s office, politely requesting him to “ask a question”. It’s not surprising that senior officers whisper that their phones are being tapped. It’s probably true.
Of late, things have gotten so bad that petroleum minister Marpadi Veerappa Moily has publicly expressed unhappiness at files being leaked before decisions are taken even as some import lobbies were “threatening” him. This is the new normal in the byzantine big-bucks kingdom that the 73-year-old politician from Karnataka has lorded over for almost a year now. Given that the ministry is oft referred to as a Reliance fiefdom, the seat of power in the petroleum ministry is quite akin to wearing a crown of thorns.
In the last nine years of the UPA government, the longest term served was by Murli Deora, a known close friend of the Ambani family. Deora’s successor S. Jaipal Reddy barely lasted a year in a tenure marked by constant run-INS with India’s biggest conglomerate, against whom he levied a $1 billion penalty for non-delivery of committed gas from the KG basin. Various government agencies are now waging a high-profile battle with Reliance on falling output in its gas fields in the KG basin. So understanding present incumbent Moily’s motivations (and past) is important because of the huge natural assets, and monies, at stake.
During 2009-11, Moily was holding the law portfolio when the Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, were fighting it out in the courts and had a hand in getting natural resources being declared a sovereign asset (Mukesh won that battle). He was allotted the petroleum ministry at a time when nothing seemed to be going right for Reliance in terms of getting their demand for higher gas price, or getting exploration work programmes cleared.
Moksha is Reliance Harsha Moily. (Photograph by KPN)
In a matter of months (in June), Moily got a gas pricing formula based on the Rangarajan committee recommendations cleared through cabinet—a decision that promises to more than double the price in April 2014, from current levels of $4.2 per million British thermal units. Interestingly, the finance ministry has suddenly (for reasons best known to itself) woken up to the fact that there is some justification in the fears expressed and questions raised about the rationale in rewarding a company that has not delivered on the committed gas production (see boxes).
Clarifying a statement given in an interview to PTI in June that “automatically, technically applying rules is good for you (but) it is not good for the country” which some saw as proof that the rulebook was being thrown out, Moily took pains to explain that it does not mean “the rule of law will be broken...in taking a decision, the interest of the nation will prevail”.
Unfortunately, there are few political analysts from his home state Karnataka or neighbouring Andhra Pradesh (where he was in charge of Congress affairs) who would accept his words at face value—given the many controversies in his political career as he climbed up the ladder from a poor, backward caste landless family. “Veerappa Moily was called ‘Oily Moily’ long before he even dreamt of becoming the petroleum minister,” is the candid observation of a senior politician who’s had a long association with the former Karnataka CM.
The name got coined after Moily, then a young legislator in 1984, was accused by independent MLA C. Byre Gowda of offering him Rs 2 lakh to defect to the Congress (I). The sting operation by Gowda (the Moily tapes) was a setback to his image as a bright legislator who had been handpicked and groomed by late chief minister D. Devaraj Urs and made a junior minister within three years of being elected to the assembly. The incident led to Moily being sidelined for many years, before he returned as a state minister who handled many important portfolios and later became chief minister from 1992-94. “He was good as an administrator. But as a man manager, he was a failure...he didn’t trust anybody,” says a Bangalore-based senior political analyst who declined to be named.
Another major setback came in 1993 when Moily was named in a CBI chargesheet in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) bribery case. The P.V. Narasimha Rao government was facing a no-confidence motion and, according to veteran journalists, Moily was reportedly asked by the Congress high command to arrange finances to help buy support of the JMM MPs. The money, which was supplied by a liquor baron, was sent to Delhi with two ministers. To their horror, the suitcase broke open at the Delhi airport when it was flung on the conveyor belt. The ministers, though, had the gumption to quickly take out lungis from their baggage and tie up the money in it.
Sweet deals are made... a Reliance KG basin gas plant. (Photograph by Business World)
For the next decade, Moily is said to have again been sidelined. Reported sightings in Delhi were mostly of him sitting alone at Karnataka Bhavan. A good friend during those years—which were spent nurturing his literary talents and chairing various panels, including the Administrative Reforms Commission —was Dr Manmohan Singh. Their friendship grew when Dr Singh was finance minister at the Centre and he was holding the same portfolio in Karnataka.
Shadows have also been cast on Moily due to his son Harsha’s enterprise MokshaYug Access India, a rural supply chain solutions provider. Media reports (in The Pioneer) say its board has senior Reliance executives and alleges flow of corporate funds to the family-run education trust. Moily has denied these charges.
For a person who has spent considerable time in framing agendas for reforms, and was instrumental in the government takeover of the liquor wholesale business in Karnataka (ensuring healthy revenue inflow), many are critical that he is now not showing the same grit to cleanse the system. Ramakrishna Upadhya, senior editor of Deccan Herald in Bangalore, says, “During his tenure as CM he took on the big moneybags to reform admission to the professional colleges, yet now despite several reports that show Reliance in an unfavourable light, he has failed to penalise the company.”
Culturally well entrenched he may be (he’s written critically acclaimed novels, poems and other non-fiction), but a Delhi-based Karnataka watcher who declined to be identified says, “Moily climbed the backward class ladder initially but is now not so comfortable with it...it’s not in keeping with his intellectual image.” Some have even questioned Moily’s “intellectual calibre”, alleging that his impressive list of titles have been ghost-written. On being asked, Moily told Outlook that after the first few revisions (together with his wife), he gets the drafts vetted by scholars before finalising and sending it for publication.
“Veerappa is not an intellectual crook,” insists senior economist S.L. Rao, who rates the reforms roadmap framed under Moily’s chairmanship quite highly. He feels Moily is a good man whose “heart is in politics but mind is elsewhere”. That’s not a new thing in Shastri Bhavan.
This refers to the article The Drilling Sergeant (Oct 21) by Lola Nayar, which seems to have been published with the sole purpose of tarnishing and maligning my image on the basis of inferences and biased and unsubstantiated facts. It would not be an exaggeration if I call it a virtual violence against me and my family which seems to have been undertaken with mala fide motives and instigation by my political adversaries. The writer has maliciously highlighted issues in a one-sided manner without mentioning the final outcome of the cases.
The rest of the points in the article are just inferences and interpretations resting on baseless and unsubstantiated facts, listed with the sole intention of damaging and sullying my and my family’s image. I am sure an illustrious magazine like Outlook understands that the formation of government and selection of cabinet ministers is a prerogative of the prime minister and it would be highly improper on the part of any journalist to make irrelevant comments on this. It has also been said that there have been instances of leakage of confidential papers from the ministry—this is a fact and the ministry is taking suitable action in this regard.
As regards to the revision in gas pricing, it has been decided by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, completely based on the recommendations of the Rangarajan Committee without any deviations. This committee was appointed by the prime minister in May 2012 and during my tenure his recommendations are being implemented.
Unfortunately, the writer of this article has also tried to enter my personal creative space and made shameless allegations that my books are being written by ghost writers. I find it beyond my dignity to respond to it but the sake of the satisfaction of the reporter, I can show her truckloads of the drafts and documents leading to the publication of these books.
M. Veerappa Moily, Minister, petroleum & natural gas, New Delhi
Senior associate editor Lola Nayar responds: Veerappa Moily has rightly pointed out that he has had a public career spanning four decades. But this long period has not been without its ups and downs. Based on detailed interactions with veterans from the political class, retired bureaucrats and media, some of the incidents I reported do indeed cast a shadow on his career—irrespective of whether the charges were conclusively proved or not. Crucially, I met the minister twice while reporting for this profile and have taken care to reflect his views in the story. For instance, I have also written about his role in taking on the might of private colleges or his involvement in the government takeover of the wholesale liquor business in Karnataka. This profile is a journalistic exercise, not a hatchet job.
rejoinder to my post # 5: Has the minister stolen, when people say he has, as the money is a govt. instrument, he is a representative of the govt., and he seems to have sanction to be an advisor to the administrative executive, and we have all voted him to power? The govt. is buying goods and services, if the currency is a govt. function, and medium of exchange. The people form the govt. through representatives. Who has the minister stolen from, if he has, himself/herself, when the govt. is an empty shell without the administration and ministers, or has he stolen from the govt.?
The fact is, that if a minister might have been corrupt, even in imagination, then he hasn't stolen from the taxpayer, but from the govt.. The govt. that he is entitled to represent, he has used funds for a purpose and reason, however personal, or not.
With due respect, there is 'oil illiteracy' pervading in India- could even have been deliberately spread. This helps highly questionable operations greatly on this front. Like, immediately after the Govt approval of the monstrous price hike for gas, despite the declared fall in production rate, potential stocks were revised upwards, and new participation deals led to substantial fresh discoveries! Many more spelling mistakes are on show!
Moily shares the 'law degree' with many of his crooked collegues in this infamous cabinet. He made laws increasing reservations to 74%.
He shares another notoriety with his colleague, Integrity Singh - his bribing Gowda in 1982, to defect, for the 'princely sum' of 2 lakhs - the Moily tapes! Expectedly, the judicial enquiry gave him his 'Mr Clean' chit.
Moily introduced Urdu language news broadcast in Kannada channel to please the Muslims.This resulted in widespread riotings in Bangalore and other places resulting in loss of many lives.Moily had to withdraw that programme and he lost his chief minister's post.He is a silly fellow who compared Sonia Gandhi to Godess Durga and declared that if Sonia touches Modi with her sword,he will be reduced to ashes.He is sycophant and so he is a minister.
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