Family Ties

Responding to Kejriwal charge, Gujarat petrochemicals minister admits he is related to Ambanis

Admission is another example of how potential conflicts of interest between ministers and their family businesses are going largely unscrutinised by media and government.

It is not often that the famously reticent Reliance Industries feels the need to explain itself. Yet, last month it issued a video statement, also posted on YouTube, titled No Undue Benefits from Gujarat Govt. In the video a company spokesperson responds to alleged allegations that it had received special benefits because of its relationship with one Gujarat cabinet minister.

The minister in question is Saurabh Patel, who currently holds the portfolios of Industry, Energy and Petrochemicals, Mines and Minerals, Cottage Industry, Salt Industry, Printing, Stationery, Planning, Tourism, Civil Aviation and Labour and Employment. The Aam Admi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal made the accusation. Kejriwal, according to media reports, in a speech in Ahmedabad said: “You [Modi] made Saurabh Patel a minister. By giving him portfolios like gas, petroleum, energy and minerals, in a way you allocated Gujarat's natural resources to Ambanis.”

Patel, listed as ‘Saurabh Patel (Dalal)’ on the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha website, complained to the Election Commission that Kejriwal’s statement was offensive and a violation of the model code of conduct. The Election Commission in turn asked him to clarify if he is related to the Ambanis. He confirmed that he is related to them by marriage.

Patel’s wife, who appears to go by the name Ila Saurabh Dalal, is the daughter of Ramniklal H Ambani, Dhirubhai’s older brother. According his profile on the Reliance Industries Ltd website, Ramniklal Ambani is one of the senior-most directors of RIL. He has also been a director of the public-sector Gujarat Industrial Investment Corporation for 32 years and is chairman of its audit committee. The GIIC’s primary role is financing large- and medium-scale industry. Ramniklal Ambani was also Chairman of the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation Ltd from 1978-80. The GIDC develops industrial estates and is responsible for land acquisition for industry. The GIDC and GIIC are wholly owned corporations of the Gujarat government.

In highlighting the link between Modi’s cabinet minister and the Ambani family, Kejriwal has not dug up a closely guarded secret. The family link has been mentioned multiple times in the media. As is his wont, Kejriwal focused attention on a fact that this link should be scrutinised, as it is a significant instance of potential conflict of interest.

RIL is a mammoth corporation with a significant part of its holdings in Gujarat, but the vast extended Ambani family also has  many smaller and less known business interests in the state, as the directorship profile of just Ramniklal Ambani shows. It is curious then that the presence of a powerful business family in influential positions in public corporations and government ministries should not be subject to close scrutiny.

Yet, the lack of scrutiny seems to be of a piece with the way potential conflict of interest between ministerial portfolios and family businesses are dealt with by government, parliament and the media. A couple of easy examples are Union Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, whose family has interests in real estate , and former Union Communications Minister Dayanidhi Maran, whose brother Kalanithi Maran runs a major media and communication business.

 
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.