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THE BUSINESS RIVALS: How The Ambanis-Ruias Rivalry Has Played Out Over Decades

In corporate India, rivalries are common but the Essar Tapes show that it is the Ambanis’ rivalry with Essar which has lasted the longest.

THE BUSINESS RIVALS: How The Ambanis-Ruias Rivalry Has Played Out Over Decades
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In corporate India, rivalries are common but few of them match the rivalries Reliance Industries has had with different companies in different decades that were in similar lines of business.

As a textile baron who launched the Vimal brand, Dhirubhai squabbled loudly and openly with Nusli Wadia of Bombay Dyeing and Kapal Mehra of Orkay Mills in the 1980s before the latter was tragically gunned down.

Mukesh Ambani’s tiff with Sunil Mittal and Airtel when he was trying to launch Reliance InfoComm hogged the headlines in the early 2000s till he had to part with his baby to brother Anil after they broke up.

But as the Essar Tapes show, it is the Ambanis’ rivalry with Essar which has lasted the longest.

Their first area of discomfort was petroleum and petrochemicals, Mukesh Ambani’s core focus areas after textiles. Reliance was a much bigger player, but Essar emerged a worthy and competent adversary.

Business insiders say the rivalry of the two business houses really began here.

Both the companies started their operations in petroleum in the Ambanis’ backyard, Gujarat.

Though RIL and Essar hatched their petroleum plans around the same time, for a while it looked like the Ruias’ refinery would see the light of day earlier than Reliance’s. But the Ruias suddenly found securing clearances hard to come by.

Most of Essar’s refinery and exploration projects thus got caught in litigation. Ultimately, Reliance went on to build one of the largest refineries in the world in Jamnagar in Gujarat.

The rivalry extended to oil marketing as well where both the companies are currently prominent players though Reliance, like in exploration and refining, is a much bigger player.

The next phase of rivalry between Reliance and Essar started when Mukesh Ambani made a foray into telecom with Reliance Infocomm in 2002. While Reliance’s entry affected Sunil Mittal’s Airtel the most, Essar was also aiming for a slice of the same pie in mobile telephony’s early days.

Essar was in GSM services and Reliance Infocomm (now Reliance Communications controlled by Anil Ambani) used CDMA technology.

Eventually Essar sold most of its interests in telecom, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries is making a comeback into telecom through Reliance Jio Infocomm which will operate in the 4G space.

As the Essar Tapes show, trying to know what each other was doing and influencing government policy and keeping politicians in good humour, became all part of the game.

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