The Polyester Prince

 

The Polyester Prince is not just a biography of Dhirubhai Ambani but also a very good reference book about the functioning of the Indian Polity and Media since independence. Hamish McDonald has done a great job in chronicling the life of Dhirubhai Ambani and the fact that the book is banned in India (as the Ambanis found it defaming and fought a court case to get the book banned) would only make it more authentic in the eyes of many. 

The book starts off with Dhirubhai’s adolescence and his participation in India’s Freedom struggle. Not many are aware that it was during the struggle against the Nawab of Junagadh, who was averse to integrating his state with India, Dhirubhai had his first brush with authority and realised the importance of maintaining good relations with the ruling class. The book then chronicles his journey from Yemen to Mumbai. The major part of the book deals with the legendary rivalry between Dhirubhai and Nusli Wadia for the Polyester market. Of course Dhirubhai with the help of his well wishers in Government and Media not only wins this war but makes Reliance Industries a force to reckon with in India Inc. The author compares their rivalry with the Mahabharata but rightly concurs with Blitz, a Mumbai based tabloid now defunct, that in this Mahabharata it is difficult to tell who is Pandav and who is Kaurav ? The purists may scoff at the means of Dhirubhai but for millions of shareholders and investors who grew along with Reliance, Dhirubhai was on the path of Dharma.

In most parts, the book holds your interest as you read about the murky details of corruption and the unholy nexus between Businessmen, Politicians, Bureaucrats and Media. However, the book gets slightly boring when the author writes in great detail about the technical aspects of  Polyester. Hamish has been able to do justice with most of the facts as he has mentioned in detail how Gurumurthy had the support of Ramnath Goenka of The Indian Express and how Dhirubhai had cultivated friendship in not just almost every other major newspaper but also with senior Govt officials and ministers including RBI Governor, CBI Director and senior Cabinet Ministers like Pranab Mukherjee who were always eager to circumvent or change rules to benefit Dhirubhai!! However Hamish fails to reasonably explain why Gurumurthy, convenor of Swadeshi Jagran Manch and an RSS idealogue crusades against Dhirubhai on behalf of Nusli Wadia. One reason could be the fact that Nusli was ideologically close to Sangh Parivaar. His friendship with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani is well known but what is not well known is the fact that his son Jeh Wadia has even worked as a volunteer for an organisation of Nanaji Deshmukh, an RSS idealougue, for an year in Chitrakoot. The book fails to investigate this aspect of Nusli’s life.

Apart from the legendary tales about Dhirubhai’s business acumen that is common folklore now what makes the book different from normal biographies is the excellent research and narration of behind the scenes activities of Businessmen, Politicians, Bureaucrats and Journalists. Hamish who had worked for The Washington Post, Financial Times and the Far Eastern Economic Review has done a great job in leveraging his experience and contacts to make this book a must read for any one who has interest in India’s business history since Independence.

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12 thoughts on “The Polyester Prince

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  2. Its always good to read your reviews on books…
    This one has been on my wish list for long now…

    Also, since the book is by a Non Indian..am sure it would give a fair account of Ambani’s life.

    Moreover, it would be an eye-opener for most fans who idolise Ambani…Its upto them to decide which path to choose…one of corruption and under the table tactics or one of principles and conviction.

  3. It’s a good review as usual. I really hope you read on more books and keep reviewing them. It gives me great motivation to read through. I think am curretly trying to complete the kite runner! So i know what my next pick is going to be!

    Corruption is blended with Indian economy as water blends with milk! Its just mixed up so well, that people make it a habit to corrupt officials and get their work done. Isn’t it surprising that students from the metro’s, who are supposedly exposed to the best of career options, don’t ever think of IAS as a career option! Thanks to the laid back attitude and exceptionally fast moving life of our government!

    All in all, a great read and my thinking cap is just on! 🙂

  4. Damn nice, I’ve read the book, but, not sure if I wud have been able to delve it into words as aptly as You have done.. Also what you have done is that you Researched the part about Jeh Wadia, which was not mentioned in the Book.

    Also, I never thought as to why would Gurumurthy work with Wadia. His background and upbringing was charted in such a way in the book that he had to join Goenka and Wadia against Dhirubhai………..

    You’ve got the review Spot on, Keep it up.

  5. I think it is eye opener to lot of people who thinks differently about Dhirubhai…
    and lot of things to go right if we think our county to go on right track…
    good analysis…
    keep going…

  6. Book Review: The Polyester Prince – The banned biography of Dhirubhai Ambani
    This book on Dhirubhai Ambani’s Empire is a thrilling experience as it talks about the toughest times of Reliance which has gone into the making of it and is kept away from public domain for obvious reasons. Even if people close to Ambanis are aware, they don’t dare to speak against the mightiest and the fastest growing invulnerable business house of India. RIL as on date is the most profitable and most revenue generating private company of India and the tactics (yes, the word is used deliberately) used by Late Mr. Dhirubhai Ambani which has become the trademark of the group may be appreciable in terms of financial acumen but when it comes to ethics, value and principles they are big zero.

    You name it and Reliance had been all through it – from stock market rigging, undercutting, under invoicing, non payment of duties, cheating share holders, havala, harshad Mehta, bofors and framing of Nusli Wadia, they are involved in every damn scam. Though Reliance gathered lot of International attention due to increasing profits and revenue, it could not avoid getting into controversies too due to n number of cases running against it. I feel ashamed on discovering that some of the political leaders whom I thought to be man of ethics where puppets in the hands of Dhirubhai. For those who tried to raise their voice against Reliance like Nusli Wadia, The Indian Express and a chosen few political leaders had a bad fate as with the ascent of time, Dhirubhai became bigger than the government and if the political party tried to take any step against him, he threatened to pull down the government.

    The author says that the Indian political system was driven by the prices of polyester and he has made a right remark as Indian corporate war between the Wadias and Ambanis started with polyester and later on spread among political parties with one supporting the Ambanis and very few who were the real preachers of values and principals supporting the Wadias. But the influence of Dhirubhai on New Delhi was so strong that everything worked the way he wanted it to whether it was getting a license or getting action against his business competitors and creating troubles for him like it was done for Nusli Wadia. Dhirubhai manipulated the laws and customs rules in the way he wanted them to be and by the time government realized the loopholes in the rules, he had already made his buck. He exploited the Indian government, their rules and tax system to the best of his ability which is very clear from the fact that Reliance is the only company which never paid taxes even after three decades of listing and went on giving bonus and dividends to shareholders. It took too long for the government to react and it was only for Reliance that Minimum Alternate Tax was brought in action. There had been a sheer injustice against the competitors of Reliance as all of them were not allowed to flourish in a similar environment but at the end of the day what matters is the return on investment. This is where Reliance had been right there by declaring dividends and bonus to stake holders. So it would be right to say, it was government and the system which was at loss. Billions of rupees which should have gone to the coffer of government went into building Reliance Empire and also went for paying bribes to the government babus.

    Rich, powerful, intelligent, shrewd but a man sans ethics and values – this is how the author has described Dhirubhai Amabni in his book.I hope by know all of you must be aware of the reason for the book being banned in India. Someone who smuggled entire factory into India, who purchased the government can easily get the book and the author banned in India if he dares to raise voice against him. I really appreciate this work of Hamish McDonald who went against the stream to expose Dhirubhai and his group to the public. It is an interesting and must read for those who are interested in India Inc but the only option left to them is to smuggle the book into India from some foreign location as Dhirubhai smuggled the entire factory set up at Patalganga because the book is banned in India.

    Extract from the book

    ‘Today the fact is that Ambani is bigger than government,’ said the lawyer in all seriousness. ‘He can make or break prime ministers. In the United States you can build up a super corporation but the political system is still bigger than you. In India the system is weak. If the stock exchange dares to expose Ambani, he tells it: I will pull my company shares out and make you collapse. I am bigger than your exchange. If the newspapers criticize, he can point out they are dependent on his advertising and he has his journalists in every one of their departments. If the political parties take a stand against him, he has his men in every party who can pull down or embarrass the leaders. He is a threat to the system. Today he is undefeatable.’

    But two of India’s sharpest business journalists did get Dhirubhai to admit that stroking government was his biggest task.’The most important external environment is the Government of India,’ he told India Today’s T N. Ninan and Jagannath Dubashi. ‘You have to sell your ideas to the government. Selling the idea is the most important thing, and for that I’d meet anybody in the government. I am willing to salaam anyone. One thing you won’t find in me and that is ego.’

  7. If some one could please send me the soft copy of this book.
    I am trying hard to get this book but until now no success 😦

    Appreciate you help
    Brijesh Khanna

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