THE FUEL FOR THOUGHT!
Author : Rajeev Jayaswal
Publisher : Bloomsbury
Edition : Paperback
ISBN : 9789386141293
Pages : 346
Price: Rs 499
Common man’s interest as far as the oil, gas and energy sector is concerned, is limited to its availability, accessibility and affordability to fuel the kitchen, vehicles and pump sets during power breakdowns. Of course, any hike in prices of LPG cylinders, petroleum and diesel makes headlines only for a day. However, it pinches the Aam Aadmi’s pocket for months, till the next hike is announced. What leaves the commoners totally drained is the further cascading impact on inflation.
Economic and political factors at the national and global level impact the fuel supply of nations. More importantly, what shapes the economics of oil supply is ‘lobbying’. This hardly surfaces in the media. Those who try to unearth the machinations of lobbying and their underbelly are harassed and haunted.
Yet, journalists have tried to bring us the behind the scenes drama of oil politics and lobbying in power corridors. Gas Wars Crony Capitalism and Ambanis, authored by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta along with two others in 2014, analysed the gas pricing controversy and chronicled the ways in which loopholes in the system were blatantly exploited by the Reliance Group to its advantage.
Now, The Lobbyists: Untold Story of Oil, Gas and Energy Sector by Rajeev Jayaswal will enhance our understanding of what fuels the politics of oil business in India.
A word on the author is important before we explore his book beyond the cover page. Jayaswal is a veteran business journalist in the national capital and was associated with leading dailies, such as The Indian Express Group, Business Standard, Financial Express and Economic Times, covering economic issues including the oil and gas sector for decades now.
The Lobbyists focuses on a decade-long rule of UPA I & II between 2004–14 when high hopes were pinned on the potential of self-sufficiency in petroleum products generated by hydrocarbon finds.
He further recounts how the period also saw the rise and fall of four petroleum ministers, who were undermined by different interest and pressure groups. The ministers were Mani Shankar Aiyar (May 2004–January 2006), Murli Deora (2006, January18 ‑ 2011), Sudini Jaipal Reddy (19 Jan 2011 – 28 Oct 2012) and M Veerappa Moily (28 October 2012 – 17 May 2014).
Each of these cabinet ministers was a veteran, removed from office under some pressure or other, except for Moily who had to demit office when UPA II lost power in the General Elections of May 2014.
For instance, former diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was drafted into politics by his school friend Rajiv Gandhi, was unceremoniously dumped by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his perceived anti-American stance. Next to be booted out was Deora, a veteran of Maharashtra politics and a Gandhi family loyalist.
Jayaswal mentions how Jaipal Reddy, who made it as petroleum minister despite his attacks on Rajiv Gandhi in the Bofors Arms Scandal, was said to have been removed from office after he had imposed Rs 7, 00Ocrore fine on Mukesh Ambani’s company for the sharp drop in production of gas and violations, for which the Comptroller and Auditor General blasted it in a report in 2011.
Most Indian reporters file stories and forget it. An enterprising individual with a doctorate from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in the national capital sets out to put a book together. He uses his meticulous collection of daily reportage, press releases, anecdotes and personal interactions.
The book is important as India is a fast-growing economy of the world and has even surpassed China. But, Jayaswal rightly points out, that growth consumes energy and India depends on imported energy to fuel its growth.
India had two world-class discoveries in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. The author raises questions as to why the Manmohan Singh government, which was expected to monetise them by attracting investments, killed it instead. Consequently, it made India more dependent on global oil producers.
It is not that petroleum ministers did not assert India’s position on issues plaguing the sector. But their efforts were thwarted at the highest level. Jayaswal narrates an incident when Deora told him that he was reprimanded by then PM Manmohan Singh for raising the issue of the Asian Premium with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during their visit to Saudi Arabia in March 2010.
For a long time, India believed that Asian countries are made to pay extra on purchase of crude oil from West Asia, while Europe or the United States do not pay such a levy. “We did not go to Saudi Arabia to eat food and enjoy. As an oil minister, it was my duty to raise issues. He (Singh) should have supported me there,” Deora told Jayaswal.
Earlier, Aiyar had raised the issue of Oil Apartheid and also the current Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan raised the issue in the OPEC seminar in 2015.
Divided into four sections — ‘American Lobbyists’, ‘Corporate Lobbyists, ‘Political Opportunism’ and ‘Import Lobbyists’ — and spread over 13 chapters, Jayaswal’s books has recorded many known events and crude facts. The book might help reveal many things to the uninitiated. For others, it is a mere recalling of those tumultuous events.