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RIL meet: High drama, low news
BS Corporate Bureau in Mumbai | December 28, 2004 10:46 IST
Vishwanath Iyer, a long-time Reliance Industries investor, came from Surat to Mumbai on Monday to get a "first-hand experience" of the board meeting. He was hanging around on the street in front of Maker Chambers IV where the meeting was held.
He was not allowed to enter the building but had a ring-side view of vice-chairman and managing director Anil Ambani addressing the press outside the main gate of the building minutes before the board meeting started.
Like Iyer, members of the media were out in full strength to report on the board room drama but they were not allowed inside. Maker Chambers IV turned into a virtual fortress, guarded by security guards and policemen.
Cameras whirred and rolled as the younger Ambani brother Anil drove up to the gates in a steel-grey Land Rover. Much to the disappointment of the media, Anil Ambani drove on but a minute later he was seen walking back to the gate.
Dressed in a dark grey suit, Anil spoke for about five minutes before the board meeting started, making it clear that he had not been consulted on or informed of the buyback.
Elder brother Mukesh Ambani managed to avoid reporters, his Mercedes slipping in through the "Out" gate while Anil was talking to the press.
Other RIL directors soon followed. Lawyer M L Bhakta drove up in his black Honda Accord and another director in a Mercedes.
On the fourth floor where the board meeting was held, pin drop silence prevailed. A receptionist sat in her seat and the entrance was flanked by security personnel.
Outside the building's gate, the Reliance group's communications division was out in strength, led by Yogesh Desai, president, corporate affairs, RIL, and Jimmy Mogal of Reliance Infocomm.
As the meeting wore on, television correspondents updated their audiences and agency reporters filed stories using their cellphones.
A central control room was set up at Maker IV to issue press releases and send statements to the stock markets.
Besides, the Reliance group also made arrangements at a nearby five-star hotel for correspondents to sip coffee or juices and eat sandwiches. But fearing that they would miss out on the news, most reporters stuck to the vicinity of Maker Chambers.
At 1.27 pm, Anil drove out of the building. His body language seemed to suggest that he'd lost this round of the battle -- the entire RIL board was behind his elder brother Mukesh Ambani. About 20 minutes later, another director, Bhakta came out.
Visibly happy at the buyback price of Rs 570 a share, Iyer said he would retain his Reliance Industries shares. He is upset that the Ambani brothers are warring but has not lost trust in the company.
"I trust the Ambani family. After all, the family patriarch -- Dhirubhai Ambani -- created an equity cult in the country to help shareholders like us," said Iyer, an RIL shareholder from 1977.
Waiting for news bytes under the soft December sun, the reporters sounded less optimistic. From what they heard and saw, the battle for control of the over Rs 99,000 crore (Rs 990 billion) Reliance empire is far from over.