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In business of steel, how 'Sajjan' is 'Sharif'

It is business, not politics that binds them former Pakistan Prime Minister with Sajjan Jindal

In business of steel, how Sajjan is Sharif

As you move from Haji Ali towards Church Gate in Mumbai, you are most likely to see a majestic mansion on the left side of the busy Peddar Road. In Mumbai where every inch of land is priceless and precious, you would not see such a massive mansion in 'Amchi Mumbai' often. One sees Indian tricolor flying high and a board informs us that this is 'Jindal House.'

The Jindal family would be happy to see that Shahbaz Sharif has become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Well, the reclusive and reticent Sajjan Jindal, the owner of Jindal House and founder Chairman and Managing Director of Jindal South West (JSW), and Nawaz Sharif, the elder brother of Shabaz Sharif, are thick friends. It is business, not politics that binds them former Pakistan Prime Minister with Sajjan Jindal.

Sajjan Jindal, who owns Delhi team in IPL, was the man behind arranging a meeting between India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on December 25 in 2015 on the occasion of Sharif's birthday and the marriage of his grand daughter Mehr-un-Nisa.

It may be recalled that with increasing tension between the two neighbours and complete breakdown of talks between the two countries, Sajjan Jindal was making efforts to bring back leadership of two countries on the discussion table. Prior to Modi's visit in Lahore, Sajjan Jindal met Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan.

Sajjan Jindal was received by the family members of Nawaz Sharif at the Islamabad airport. He was later escorted to Murree in an official protocol. Murree is a mountain resort town on outskirts of the Islamabad-Rawalpindi metropolitan area. The British built this town during their rule to escape the scorching heat in the plains of Punjab during the summer. The meeting between them had created an ugly furore in Pakistan. It triggered speculation in Pakistani media over revival of bilateral talks amid strains in ties.

However, in a tweet Sharif's daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif said there was nothing secret about the meeting after Opposition leaders including Imran Khan and Fawad Choudhary created an avoidable uproar over the 'secret' meeting.

"Jindal is an old friend of the Prime Minister (Nawaz Sharif). Nothing secret about the meeting and should not be blown out of proportion. Thank you," Maryam tweeted. Niece of Shabaz Sharif, Maryam has recently played a key role in the ouster of Imran Khan.

The social media is full of pictures in which Nawaz Sharif is standing with Sajjan Jindal, his mother, Savitri Jindal, brothers, Rattan and Naveen as well as other members of his family. While Savitri Jindal is the richest woman of India and was minister in the Haryana cabinet in the past, Naveen Jindal was the Congress MP from Kurukshetra in Haryana.

Sajjan Jindal has long business ties with Sharif's family owned the Ittefaq Group of Industries. It is a Pakistani integrated steel producer with major operations in Punjab. Now, Nawaz Sharif's nephew is managing the business on his behalf.

It is said that frequent visits of Sajjan Jindal to Islamabad were aimed to push to obtain the "right of way" from Pakistan government to transport iron ore by road from Hajigak iron ore deposits in the Bamian, Afghanistan, to Karachi. From the Pakistani port, the ore was aimed to be shipped to western and southern parts of India. Sajjan Jindal's JSW has several gigantic plants in western and southern parts of the country.

Son of OP Jindal, a Hissar based first generation steel factory owner, Sajjan Jindal began his career with a steel plant in 1982 and is now head of the country's largest steel company, JSW Steel. Jindal and the group's flagship, JSW Steel, might have overtaken the oldest private player in the business, Tata Steel, but the journey hasn't been easy. Now, the Mumbai-based JSW Group is a $12-billion infrastructure conglomerate.

Currently, JSW Steel is India's largest steel player, while JSW Energy stands fourth in the pecking order behind Tata Power, Adani Power, and Reliance Power; JSW Cement, headed by his son Parth, ranks sixth among cement players. The group also includes unlisted JSW Infrastructure which is in the ports and berths business. JSW has even entered consumer-facing businesses like providing steel to steel furniture makers as well as the paints business.

And if we talk about the steel business of Sharif's family, it was founded by the Muhammad Sharif, father of Nawaz and Shahbaz. The name of the company is Ittefaq. By 1971, it was the biggest steel industry in Pakistan. In 1972, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto nationalised the steel industry, including the Ittefaq family business empire — Ittefaq Group.

In 1974, Muhammad Sharif founded the Sharif Group of Companies. In 1978, General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq returned the business after developing political links with the Sharifs. The size of Ittefaq is tiny compared to JSW, yet they are the bacons of India-Pakistan bilateral trade. As Pakistan is having a new Prime Minister, one hopes that two neighbours would resume their bilateral trade relations thick and fast and also talk regularly to solve their outstanding issues. If India-China can have massive bilateral trade ties despite border issues, why neighbors across the Radcliffe Line can think positively and move forward.

It is no secret that the volume of informal trade between them is larger than formal trade; official trade can flourish, thanks to regularising the unofficial trade by improving trade infrastructure and bringing the items, which are being traded unofficially into the official tradable list.

It goes without saying that efficient and cost effective transportation and communication is a pre-requisite for promotion of trade and commerce and movement of goods, services and people. Finally, the leadership of two countries owes an explanation to their people as to why they are not allowing people to people contact. They must ease restrictions sooner rather than later.

(The author is Delhi-based senior journalist and writer. He is author of Gandhi's Delhi which has brought to the forth many hidden facts about Mahatma Gandhi)

Vivek Shukla
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