By TN Ashok
TATA Group Big Boss Ratan TATA had reportedly told one of the TV Channels in an interview recently that his “Chemistry” with former telecom minister and now textiles minister Dayanidhi Maran was not good. The answer was in response to a question on how he would react if the DMK were to replace the 2G scam beleaguered Telecom Minister A Raja, who has since quit, with old incumbent Dayanidhi Maran.
The significance of what Ratan TATA said was apparently lost out on many at the time, because many perceived that Dayanidhi Maran as telecom minister had not reacted favorably to any of the proposals of the TATAs at the time, particularly on cellular issues. Or migration issues.
But the real origin or rather history to the remark apparently goes back to some years when TATA Sky wanted to get a foothold in the southern cable map or footprint for its own cable and DTH services. It was widely speculated by media that in the uptown Chennai, where cable viewership was growing, there was a fierce battle among DTH providers to grab their share of the lucrative market. When TATA Sky made its foray into this cash rich section, it was allegedly nudged out by SUN TV run Sumangali Cable, which reportedly had a stranglehold on the cable operators and reportedly wanted to monopolise this household market , fed on soap operas. SUN TV has a surfeit of soaps on its various language networks and it was readily and easily marketable through its cable network.
When DTH happened, and SUN was organsing itself to capture this market in the home segment in Tamil Nadu competing fiercely with other DTH providers such as TATA Sky, Zee network, Reliance Big TV(which came later), there was apparently some turf war between SUN and particularly TATA Sky.
TATA Sky was apparently nudged out because cable operators under SUN TV’s network were reluctant to help the outsider obviously for reasons of self preservation of locals against outsiders leading the TATAs to feel that there was no level playing field. If stories that went around in the media then are to be believed, then Ratan TATA himself approached the centre then for relief to prevail upon the UPA ally DMK supremo Dr Kalignar Karunanidhi. But UPA , it is learnt, did not want to take up the case and showed some kind of indifference as the then UPA 1, not so strong as UPA 2, did not want to ruffle an allys feathers. This development also probably hardened the then telecom minister Dayananidhi Maran’s attitude towards the TATAs and their request for licensing. This is probably why Ratan TATA said “My chemistry with Dayanidhi Maran is not so good”.
Whether the cable war between TATA Sky and Sun TV actually spawned into licensing issues at the telecom ministry is debatable , but the hunch is that this is the origin of the hiatus between the TATAs and the Maran brothers – don’t forget Dayanidhi Maran’s bro owns the SUN TV network. Whatever the controversies, one can’t beat the sheer entrepreneurial skills of the maran brothers in building the SUN TV empire in Tamil Nadu. SUN TV owner Kalanidhi Maran reportedly takes home a pay of about Rs 23 crores ( nearly US $ 5 million) per month. The highest paid TV Executive in the country and perhaps among the top ten in the world.
The SUN TV network has grown into a huge enterprise over the years, which explains why it has managed the financial muscle to take over the controlling equity in the private domestic airline Spice Jet, now waiting on the wings to start international operations. Sheer marketing intelligence supported by a little of political clout has propelled the Sun TV Networks among the top media barons in the world , challenging even the Times bastion. It is said that uncle Dr Kalaignar Karunanidhi gave the seed capital to the dynamic Murasoli Maran at that time, who was then commerce minister to kickstart the venture.
SUN TV has some of the most professionally produced serials from film stars and leading theatre playwrights aired on prime time and great game shows and comedy programmes across its fourteen or fifteen regional channels. These programmes rake in the moolah for SUN TV, a great success story and a fit case for management study. Today they are also the fastest growing movie house Sun Pictures. They either finance or distribute Tamil films with leading stars of the day.
The all time block buster of Indian cinema, Enthiran in Tamil and Robot in Hindi, was financed and distributed by Sun Pictures. For an investment of Rs 150 crores, the highest in Indian film history, the film rakes in three times the amount (so far) about Rs 450 crores. It has made Rajnikanth an inconic star earning Rs 45 crores for the film, more than double of what his peer would charge in the more internationally marketable hindi flmdom.
It is also said that after the enterprise grew, the maran brothers paid off their debt to their illustrious uncle and freed themselves of any political patronage and have since been running it as a strictly commercial entity. Today SUN TV stands as a successful commercial enterprise, which grows its fortune now more through its credibility and strength as an entertainer par excellence, than as a venture which receives any political backing.
May be this is the reason why Jaya TV, which still is strongly influenced by its founder and mentor and sponsor , former Chief Minister, the charismatic J Jayalalitha, is yet to grow exponentially like Sun TV, though it has a strong potential and committed viewership from its host of admirers. Their programming patterns obviously need to change drastically and they also need to diversify into more channels to reach more of the linguistic masses, than confine to a select Tamil audience.
Also, channels such as Raj TV and Kalaignar TV are also growing in stature. Raj TV has its own viewership, and Kalaignar TV, reportedly an offshoot of Raj TV promoters, has allegedly received seed capital from the DMK superemos. But STAR TV’s Vijay TV has not achieved the footprint it should have achieved which explains why Balaji Telefilms, which also makes tamil sitcoms, used the SUN TV network for airing its programmes. Kindly remember that Balaji Telefilms and STAR TV grew together with their sitcoms such as Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi etc.
Broadly, if one were to fit TATA remarks about his chemistry with some and the subsequent revelations that have come out in the 2G scam through the Radia Tapes, one can understand the reason for Niira’s reported lobbying for the TATAs and jockeying for A Raja as the minister in the Telecom Ministry. Apparently as per the media interpretation of the tapes Radia lobbied with a clear objective to reap the benefits for her client the TATAs. Radia has admitted in the tapes that her client TATA was one of the beneficiaries of the 2G licensing under A Raja.
So if the various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were to be put together, it may not be wrong to assume that since the Dayanidi Maran standoff with Ratan Tata, apparently owing its origin to the cable turf war between their enterprises and DTH services, there was intense lobbying to get a neutral, if not a favorable minister in the saddle to handle issues without prejudice. This is what one can draw as inference from the revelation in the tapes. May be right maybe wrong, but seems believable.
But one has failed to see in all this reportage of the so called 2G scam and the Radia Tapes is that ever since the telecom revolution began in the early 90s under the then Rajiv Gandhi government and Sam Pitroda schemes, the real consistent beneficiary of all the licensing policies since the BJP led NDA regime to the UPA led government, when the real race started under the then telecom minister Pramod Mahajan, it is the Reliance group ADAG owned by Anil Ambani. They have not lost out one bit at any point of time but gained every time. And this industrial house has not been hit by any controversies irrespective of the governments at the centre.
Not been under public exposure of the roving eye of the media either. Hmmm must be having smart media managers.
The author is former Economics Editor of PTI and a corporate consultant on media strategies.