HIS BODY LANGUAGE SAID IT ALL as he walked past the row of television cameras and scampering journalists waiting impatiently outside the Supreme Court. He did not respond to the questions thrown at him. The 51-year-old long-distance runner had always been the underdog in the bitter battle for control of India’s natural gas resources, but he had chosen to take on his elder brother and, with him, the might of the establishment. On that muggy morning of 7 May 2010, however, Anil Ambani realised that he would have to wait to fight another day.
Mukesh Ambani, barely two years older than Anil, was conspicuous in his absence. Mukesh’s lawyers—led by Harish Salve and including Abhishek Manu Singhvi (who doubles up as the official spokesperson of the Congress party when he is not in his black robes)—and his top executives were, predictably, exultant. A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, led by outgoing Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan, had ruled in favour of the company that Mukesh heads, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), India’s biggest privately-controlled corporate entity.
A short distance away, in Shastri Bhavan, Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Murli Deora, a close friend of the founder of the Reliance group, the late Dhirubhai Ambani, father of Mukesh and Anil, issued a terse statement even as his secretary gave more detailed answers. Deora, whom Anil had publicly accused of acting in a partisan manner and against the national interest in a series of newspaper front-page advertisements issued by his Reliance Natural Resources Limited (RNRL), merely said, “The gas belongs to the nation…not to any company or individual. The Supreme Court has upheld our stand.”