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The man Ambanis revere most
Joydeep Ray |
November 29, 2004
Rahul Bajaj has talked to them, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is said to be interested in a rapprochement, India's top legal brains are reportedly being hired by both sides.
But in the end, the fight for control of India's largest private sector company might not be resolved in the board room or court room but at the Sandipani Ashram in Porbandar, some 350 km south-west of Ahmedabad.
This is the headquarters of Ramesh Oza, founder of the Sandipani Vidyaniketan (a school) and Ashram.
The Reliance 'ownership issue'
Oza has been the long-time guru of the Ambani family and is learnt to have recently met the brothers, Mukesh, chairman and managing director, and Anil, vice chairman and managing director, of the Rs 75,000-crore (Rs 750 billion) Reliance Industries, in a bid to heal the rift. He did so, sources confirmed, at the request of Mukesh's and Anil's mother, Kokilaben.
Oza was in Chhattisgarh over the weekend to attend some religious functions and could not be reached for comment, but an official at Sandipani Vidyaniketan told Business Standard, "We can only say that his intention is to help the family and that process is on."
The official was reluctant to comment further, saying, "It is purely a family matter and Bhaishri [as Oza is popularly known] is being heard by family members respectfully. He has been trying to understand the issues and talk to all concerned so that things do not get worse."
Oza has been running the Shri Bhartiya Sanskruti Samvardhak Trust since 1984. It is a measure of his unobtrusive personality that he never flaunted his proximity to one of India's richest and most powerful business families, nor is a great deal known about him outside of Gujarat and the immediate Ambani circle in Mumbai.
Despite his relatively young age -- he is just 47 years old -- Oza has been the Ambani guru since founder Dhirubhai Ambani's time and has played a pivotal role in major family events. He is a regular visitor to Sea Wind, the 14-storey Ambani family mansion on Mumbai's Cuffe Parade.
For instance, he was present when Dhirubhai was fighting for his life in Mumbai and stayed on in the city for nearly two weeks to comfort the family afterwards, even though he had a busy "katha" schedule -- that is, reading and interpreting the Ramayana and Mahabharata, which he regularly does to large audiences.
Later, on December 28, 2002, Oza was seen closeted with Mukesh and Anil during the release of a commemorative stamp on Dhirubhai in Mumbai by Pramod Mahajan, then communications minister.
How did the Ambani family become so close to this Brahmin from a modest middle-class family? Porbandar is just 32 km from Chorwad, the fishing village from which Dhirubhai originally came.
In the mid-1980s, when Dhirubhai was building his empire, Oza, then in his 20s, had already begun to attract followers and caught the attention of the Ambani family.
A Gujarati bania family's traditional reverence for Brahmins soon turned into admiration and Dhirubhai made a small contribution towards the school, which started with just 18 students. Over the years, as Dhirubhai grew more successful and powerful, he continued to keep close links with Oza.
It is said, however, that Oza is closer to elder brother Mukesh and had a hand in organising the nuptials between him and Nita.
The Ambanis may be Oza's most prominent followers in India, but he also has a large following among the non-resident Gujarati community, particularly in the US. He is also known to be close to senior ministers and bureaucrats in the government of Gujarat and was granted 85 acres of land to expand the Ashram's activities a few years ago.
Much of Oza's following, however, stems from the fact that he is said to take a greater interest in education and culture than in religion.But he just may need to take a greater interest in business and Reliance Industriy's complex share-holding pattern to resolve one of corporate India's biggest disputes.