NEW DELHI: What is it about Reliance and Mukesh Ambani that he has every successive Prime Minister and senior Ministers---and of course honourable leaders of the oppostion--in his “pockets”, to use a rather eloquent phrase from Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal? He manages to survive every quake, and bounces back in the echelons of power despite changes in the dispensation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now posing for a Reliance advertisement, quite a commentary on the crony capitalism that has clearly penetrated the highest echelons of power. The newly launched Jio Digital Life advertisement has a beaming photograph of PM Modi endorsing the Reliance dedication to “India and 1.2 billion Indians.”

Since when has the Prime Minister of India started endorsing private corporations, and that too those with a dubious past such as Reliance? And should the people of India be at all concerned with the fact that the happy support for Reliance comes in the wake of a report submitted to the government by an appointed panel under the former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court A.P.Shah?

While the details of the report have not been confirmed by the government, economic newspapers like the Financial Express have carried reports quoting informed sources that the Shah panel found Reiiance Industries (RIL) and its foreign partners BB Plc and Niko Resources “guilty” for taking out natural gas that belonged to the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC). RIL has been held responsible by the panel, according to the newspaper, for selling ONGC gas commercially.

The same newspaper quoted Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan two days ago as confirming that Justice Shah had submitted the report. The report read; “The minister added, “He has given some observations on the D&M report also. Let me look into the details of the report. We have a time limitation of one month. By September 30, government would take appropriate action on this issue.” When asked if the report has confirmed that gas has migrated from the ONGC block to RIL, Pradhan replied, “Yes,” refusing to elaborate further. The minister also said that the report would “certainly” be put in public the domain after the ministry reviewed it.”

If indeed the Petroleum Minister’s affirmative answer to the question remains on record, and is not denied, then the government was well aware of the fraud involved at least a couple of days before the Reliance advertisement with the PM as the only figure, hit the stands. This open and unprecedented endorsement of a prvate industrial house by an elected PM of the country has sparked a controversy as Reliance, despite the report now, has with this public endorsement sent out a signal that it has the highest support possible.

The advertisement has sparked off a political controversy with both AAP and the Congress questioning the advertisement. Of course Mukesh Ambani was a very visible figure when the Congress government was in power, and hence the credibility of questioning the advertisement remains really with AAP leader Kejriwal who in a series of tweets has attacked PM Modi for modelling for Reliance.“PM of India openly endorses Reliance product… PM as Mr Reliance” tweeted Kejriwal. The Congress wanted to know why and how the Prime Ministers Office had given permission for his photograph to be used by Reliance. Congress leader Ajay Maken asked, will the PM now also give permission for his photograph to be used by other business houses?

Proper permission to use the PMs photograph is required with unauthorised use prohibited under law. Although there is no word from either Reliance or the government about the permissions sought and given, it seems unlikely that Ambani would have done so without sanction.

The Shah report meanwhile is with the government that is now expected to study it over the next month. It might be recalled that in November 2015, a US based consultant DeGolyer and MacNaughton had stated in a report that at least 11.122 billion cubc metres of natural gas had migrated from ONGC to RIL in the Bay of Bengal between 2009-2015. RIL, it was said, commercially exploited this gas worth Rs 10,000 crores.