End of story

BY tca| IN Opinion | 20/06/2005
An avidly followed soap opera ends and draws very cautious comment

You don`t say

Darius Nakhoonwala


The Reliance settlement drew very cautious comment, if at all.

Few soaps on TV are more popular than the ones that document splits in successful business families. So it is not surprising that the travails, aired so publicly, of the Ambani family should have caught the public`s imagination over the last six months. Only the differences of opinion between the Gandhi and Bachchan families come anywhere close to provoking the same level prurient interest in what is, at the end of the day, a common enough tale: a vicious and no-holds barred family fight over money.

The Hindu was the only paper that explicitly recognized this and therefore provided a detailed justification of why it was writing on such a matter. The burden of its song was that Reliance Industries, which the Ambanis pretty much own and run, plays a very important role in the country`s economy. Ergo, it said with a sigh, we had better take note.

"When the family involved controls the largest private sector company whose revenue is equivalent to 3.5 per cent of the country`s GDP, which contributes 10 per cent of the indirect tax revenue and 5 per cent of the total exports, where 3.1 million investors have a stake, the differences that developed between Mukesh and Anil Ambani and spilled into the boardrooms of the companies could not but cause widespread national concern." National? Hmm… It then went on to say that "the country as a whole, and particularly the investing public, would heave a sigh of relief over the settlement…"

Well, yes and no because as the Financial Express boldly pointed out "in true Ambani style, the settlement is delightfully vague, some would say opaque." The settlement had changed nothing much of consequence, it said, while leaving the details unclear. And it asked shrilly, "What does `have responsibility` mean? The tussle was always over ownership. Has that been resolved? Far from it!"

The Business Standard, which does not publish on Sundays, brought out a special edition. Its leader summarized the episode nicely. "…raised three sets of issues. One was about how the Reliance businesses were to be run, and by whom. The second concerned ownership of the enterprise. And finally, there were the corporate governance issues that the younger Ambani raised."

It then lost its way somewhat but did manage to be nice to both the brothers by saying that the solution found by the mother was a "significant victory for Anil Ambani", the younger brother who had started the fight. It commiserated with the elder brother Mukesh who has lost his favourite company, Infocomm but went on to say that he needed to be "complimented on his willingness to accept the change and to be fair in the division; indeed, he has scored a point by refusing to split Reliance Industries itself, whose control he now has to himself. The issue is whether the issues that he (Anil) raised on behalf of minority shareholders have been brushed under the carpet." The paper also took a swipe at the regulatory and government agencies which it said had done poorly.




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