Shukla inhabits the worlds of politics, business, cricket and entertainment — things all Indians are passionate about. When his friends from one of these worlds need access to another, Shukla is the handy link that not merely connects but injects a measure of personal goodwill that helps forge bonds. In 2004, when Congress came back to power under Sonia Gandhi, Shukla helped organise private screenings of Shah Rukh Khan’s films Veer Zara and Main Hoon Na at Delhi’s Mahadeva auditorium. Both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi attended the screenings.
When the siblings have been spotted at cricket matches, it has usually been alongside Shukla, the BCCI mandarin. “He is generally a nice guy, fun to be around, always has many stories to tell, knows the latest gossip and is usually willing to help out,” said a senior leader of a regional party who asked that neither he nor his party be named.
Shukla is blessed with an ace stock picker’s talent to gauge people’s political or business fortunes. He is also able to align himself with those who he judges to be on the rise, even if it necessitates inviting himself to parties or wangling a front-row seat at a high-profile event. And it is not as if people mind having him around. With sharp memory, an appreciation for the art of gossip and native political intelligence, Shukla can be a delightful raconteur. “I don’t do negative things. I don’t try to hurt people in any way and I try to help out wherever I can. I have always believed that what goes around comes around,” Shukla told ET, answering a question about just how he is acceptable to squabbling politicians and rival BCCI camps alike.
Shukla’s wife and BAG Group promoter Anurradha Prasad’s father Thakur Prasad was a well-known lawyer and a leader of the Jan Sangh. Her brother Ravi Shankar Prasad is a BJP spokesperson and served as the information and broadcasting minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayeegovernment.
FRIENDS & INVESTORS
In recent years, as Shukla has started expanding the family media business run by his wife Anurradha Prasad, his various worlds have increasingly started intersecting. Shah Rukh Khan and his wife Gauri, for instance, are investors in Shukla’s companies. Gauri Khan invested Rs 10 crore in E24 Broadcast (formerly BAG Glamour) in early 2007. Shah Rukh is an investor in ARVR Communications, a company promoted by Anurradha Prasad that is the largest shareholder in BAG Films and Media Ltd, the publicly traded flagship company of the BAG Group (BAG is an acronym for Bhagwan, Allah, God).
Red Chillies CEO Venky Mysore said the investments were made before Shukla became IPL chairman. “The investments made in BAG Glamour & ARVR Communications were part of his portfolio and made back in 2007. This was before IPL was conceived of or well before Rajeev Shukla became the chairman of IPL. Furthermore, there was no obligation to report such investments to BCCI nor do we believe there is any conflict of interest,” Venky Mysore wrote in an email.
Shukla also enjoys a great rapport with India’s biggest industrialist Mukesh Ambani. Through transactions involving a web of companies, entities that form part of Reliance Industries’ promoter group are linked to companies that have made a Rs 76-crore investment in three BAG Group companies — BAG Film and Media, E24 Broadcast (formerly BAG Glamour) and News24 Broadcast (formerly BAG Newsline).
High Growth Distributors, the investor in all three companies, received Rs 76 crore in unsecured debentures from Sarvasiddhi Commercials, which is part-owned by Xanti Commercials and Tiara Comtrade. These companies are, in turn, owned by Reliance Investment and Trading Pvt Ltd (RITL) and Reliance Consolidated Holdings Ltd (RCHL) via preference shares. RITL is owned by a number of entities that are disclosed as promoter group companies on the Reliance Industries balance sheet as on March 31. These promoter group companies include Reliance Ports and Terminals Ltd, Reliance Property Management Services Pvt Ltd and Ekansha Enterprise Pvt Ltd.
High Growth Distributors invested Rs 26.15 crore in BAG Films during 2006-07 and followed this up the next fiscal with a Rs 25-crore investment each in E24 Broadcast and News24 Broadcast. These companies run eponymous channels in the entertainment and news segments.
Nita Ambani also sits on the advisory board of the media school run by the BAG Network, according to the website of ISOMES, or the International School of Media and Entertainment Studies. ARVR Communications (formerly Anu Films and Communications) also has investments from Indiabulls Group promoter Sameer Gehlaut and a Rs 25-crore investment from companies controlled by Mahendra Nahata of HFCL (Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd).
Nahata told ET that he had invested in Shukla’s companies because his company needed content for the mobile TV business it has entered. “These are independent investments and have nothing to do with Mukesh Ambani,” he said. In 2010, he had sold HFCL Infotel, a broadband company, to RIL. “Reliance Industries or group companies or affiliates or associates have no beneficial ownership in BAG Films & Media,” a Reliance Industries spokesperson wrote in an email. He did not respond to a question on whether RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani had any beneficial interest in BAG Group companies.
Shukla knew both Shah Rukh Khan and RIL’s Ambani long before they invested in his companies. As the host of the talk show ‘Ru Ba Ru’ on Zee, Shukla interviewed Shah Rukh in 1996, shortly after the success of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. This and several others of Shukla’s interviews from that era are available on YouTube. A notable one is with a rising BJP functionary of the time — Narendra Modi. “Modi was at that time desperate to be interviewed. He would always complain that nobody does his interview. He came to our office and got it done,”
Shukla said, laughing, during an interview at his home even as news channels reported from Goa that the BJP had appointed the Gujarat chief minister head of the party’s election campaign committee. Shukla worked at the Sunday Observer between 1997 and 2000 at senior editorial positions. The newspaper was promoted by Reliance Industries before the split in the Ambani family. When Shah Rukh was detained at a US airport in 2009, the first person he called was Shukla, the actor later said in an interview. Shukla worked the phones with the external affairs ministry immediately. His news channel also got to break the news.
This is how Shukla’s various worlds come together. In the world of media, too, Shukla has impeccable connections. Star India, which won the BCCI media rights in 2012, does ad sales for News24 channel, giving the news broadcaster a minimum guarantee of revenues. BAG Films has long produced soaps for Star network channels. Star India did not respond to a request for comment.
Even when a Delhi Police investigation led to the arrest of three IPL players and consumed the tournament in controversy and harsh media glare, Shukla would have had a good source at the very top. Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar is a family friend and his daughter, 29-year-old Ankita Kumar, is a director in five companies promoted by Anuraddha Prasad — BAG Business Ventures, E24 Glamour, Approach Films, News24 Broadcast and Dhamaal24 Radio Network. “I am no longer a shareholder or a director in any BAG Group company,” Shukla said. Prasad did not respond to a request for comment.
A FEEL FOR POLITICS
Shukla made a spectacular entry into politics in 2000, when he won more than double the votes at the command of his party, the splinter outfit Loktantrik Congress Party. The party had 20 MLAs and estimated the support of seven independents. Fifteen candidates from various parties contested for 11 Rajya Sabha seats. Pundits predicted that Shukla would come last. When the votes were counted, Shukla came first, with 51 votes, thanks to heavy cross-voting from BJP benches and Shukla’s friendship with leaders of smaller parties.
As the Lucknow bureau chief of the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran, Shukla had covered the UP Assembly for years. “I have always thought that it is better to join politics openly than to maintain the facade of a journalist and try to operate in politics. That is why I took the plunge,” he said.
Shukla came to Delhi in 1983 as a reporter for the now-defunct Ravivar magazine. One major story reported by Shukla was on how the then finance minister, VP Singh, was transferring land to his cronies to work around the restrictions of the Land Ceiling Act. He later rose to become the political editor of ABP Group’s Sunday magazine and editor of the Sunday Observer, which was promoted by the Ambanis of Reliance Industries. As a reporter during the late 80s, Shukla grew close to Rajiv Gandhi. “Those days reporters used to accompany the prime minister even on domestic trips. So all of us who covered the PMO got to meet the PM regularly,” Shukla says.
In 2002, Shukla left the NDA and joined the Congress. “In 2002, nobody believed the Congress would come to power. Because of my relationship with Rajiv Gandhi, I felt that I have to join Congress at this difficult time,” he says. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/news-by-company/corporate-trends/rajeev-shukla-meet-the-man-who-is-a-minister-networker-bcci-mandarin-and-businessman/articleshow/20563920.cms