Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Did Sajan Jindal help set up Modi’s Lahore flight ?

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his surprise trip to lahore via Moscow and kabul, steel baron Sajjan Jindal  was part of the entourage, and this set off toungues wagging on how Big Business was helping guide the two nations foreign policy !

Modi with Sharif at Lahore

Media revelations had it that  exactly a year ago that the Haryana-based business tycoon  had secretly organised the meeting between Modi and Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif at a Kathmandu hotel as part of a backroom peace initiative pushed by Big Business. Sharif is a fellow steel baron from the Pakistani Punjab whose steel mill - Ittefaq – is run by his son.

Jindal whose  firm JSW has a 16 % stake in theIndian  consortium which won rights to mine the iron rich Hajigak mines in that landlocked country, is being seen as a key corporate go-between for Modi’s diplomatic overtures to India’s estranged neighbor, Pakistan.

For several years now the state-run Steel Authority of India Ltd.  consortium has been trying to make some headway in its projects to mine Hajigak which is believed to hold 1.8 billion tonnes of high grade iron ore, but have been trumped by the logistics challenge posed to shipping the ore to India.

The easiest and cheapest route is by road or rail through Pakistan. However, with Pakistan refusing to let India ship goods through its territory to Afghanistan on Indian vehicles or rail wagons, such a project has been a non-starter.

The support which Pakistan lends to terror groups which operate in Afghanistan – including the Haqqani network – also make it a security challenge to have long term mining operations in the central Bamyan province where the mines are located.

Interestingly, Jindal’s brother and Congress politician Naveen  Jindal owns another 16 % stake in the mining consortium, while other family members have stakes in it through various other corporate entities, which analysts calculate could tote up to a 44 % stake.
The corporate grapewine has it that the interest Jindals have in Afghanistan’s future potential have made them keen to involve themselves in commercial diplomacy between India and Pakistan.

Indian corporates who have invested huge sums in gas based power plants and fertilizer factories are also keen that an American backed gas pipeline project – TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) – too gets off the ground to bring cheap gas from former Soviet Bloc countries of the Central Asia to North India.

Jindal : ties cast in iron

Again analysts point out that the pipeline could remain a pipedream like the Iran Pakistan-India pipeline unless India and Pakistan could come to an agreement between the two on  peace in Afghanistan and between India and Pakistan, besides negotiating safe passage for gas through the sub-continent.

This is not the first use of corporate leaders in back-channel diplomacy between the two countries nor the first time corporate interests were suspected to be the reason for Tycoons taking an interest in the estranged neighbours’ peace process.

Earlier Dhirubhai Ambani's trusted aide R K Mishra had played an important role in Indo-Pak diplomacy during Atal Baheri Vajpayee's prime ministership.

Reliance owns the world's largest oil refinery in Gujarat and analysts had then speculated a three-way deal could allow it to import Iranian crude and gas on the cheap for its refinery.