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April 21, 1998


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Who is the richest Indian? Congress MP stakes claim

Forbes Global names L N Mittal, Dhirubhai Ambani

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Did Forbes Global make a mistake in naming Dhirubhai Ambani as the only billionaire in India? Is he not the richest Indian?

The claims of a Congress MP have now cast a shadow of doubt over the magazine's assessment.

Congress MP Mani Kumar Subba from Tezpur in Assam, who is among the tainted parliamentarians, claims he is worth Rs 200 billion. As against this, London-based non-resident Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal is worth Rs 88 billion, S P and G P Hinduja are worth Rs 72.60 billion, and Ambani is worth Rs 48 billion.

The 'richest Indian industrialist' told Sikkim's Rato Gham magazine that the precious stones he wears are 'worth Rs 50 million'.

Claiming that he has created a political fund of Rs 20 billion, Subba bragged that he has been donating generously to various political parties. ''Two to four central ministers are always indebted to me for my contribution,'' he told the magazine.

What is more, he seems to be ruling the roost in the North-East, where he claimed that he was instrumental in setting up the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta government in Assam, the S C Jamir government in Nagaland and the Gegong Apang government in Arunachal Pradesh.

Small wonder that claims have drawn the attention of the home and the finance ministries, which have alerted the Central Bureau of Investigation and the income tax department.

Though the agencies's investigations have revealed that he has been using several imported cars like Toyota Corolla 1.6 Super Select, Mercedez Benz and BMW, they can do little. For, there are no papers to show that he owns them. The ingenious MP, they said, has taken them on lease.

Considered a Nepalese citizen before he came to India, Subba was taken to court in 1991, charging that he was a foreign national. His original name is said to be Maniraj Limboo.

Sources said that only a thorough investigation would establish the veracity of his claims.

Incidentally, the richest Indians today according to Forbes Global are L N Mittal and Dhirubhai Ambani, both self-made billionaires.

The worth of Mittal, 46, chief of Ispat International that owns or controls a string of steel mills around the globe, is estimated at Rs 88 billion. Compare this with India's cumulative foreign direct investment, from June 1991 up to March 1998, which stands at Rs 9.2 billion! Another comparison: India's total steel output is around 20 million tonnes a year, Mittal's is 17 million tonnes, which is soon expected to go up to 20 million tonnes by the end of the century!

Lakshmi Niwas (literally, the abode of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth) Mittal began his career in 1971 with his father, who owned a small steel unit. In 1976, father and son purchased a steel mill in Indonesia, with an output of 65,000 tonnes per annum. From here began his career that saw him recently acquire a steel mill in the United States for $1.4 billion.

Apparently, Mittal's success is his incredible ability to cut costs. He is known to have purchased rundown mills and then turned them into profit centres, and help underutilised centres into .

To Dhirubhai Ambani's credit, he earned his billions in India, and his origins were even humbler. While L N Mittal's father was a trader-turned-industrialist, Dhirubhai's was a school teacher who could not afford higher educations for his children (including Dhirubhai). According to Forbes Ambani is the one Asian who survived the recent financial crisis that destroyed Asian billionaires.

Ambani is further credited with introducing the retail investor culture in India, and his annual general meetings are held in cricket stadia to accommodate the 2.6 million shareholders.

Dhirubhai, 66, began his career working in Aden and became a small-time trader. He returned in 1958, went into the commodities business, and set up a small textile unit in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he upgraded the volumes of his unit, and Reliance went public in late 1977. Between 1978 and 1980, Reliance doubled its capacity, and the juggernaut's journey had begun!

Today, Reliance is into textiles, petrochemicals, refineries, setting global standards for itself and benchmarking itself against the world's best. Unlike many other "aristocratic" industrialists with longer pedigrees, Ambani was never part of the swadeshi tom-tomming Bombay Club; on the contrary, Reliance took up the challenge of globalisation like no other Indian company.

Reliance achieved a turnover of Rs 87 billion in 1997-98, and pre-tax profit of Rs 19 billion and post-tax profit of Rs 13 billion.

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