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July 7, 2002 | 2030 IST
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'I liked him very, very much'

Former Union Finance Minister Pranab MukherjeeFormer Union finance minister and senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee shared a special rapport with Dhirubhai Ambani, the patriarch of the Reliance Group who passed away at the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai on Saturday night.

The death of the Reliance chairman shook him up and he said that in Dhirubhai's death he had lost a personal friend.

In a short account that seeks to peek into Dhirubhai the man, Pranab Mukherjee highlights some of the little known facets of the Indian 'Businessman of the Century.'

"Dhirubhai Ambani first met me in the mid-seventies when I was a minister of state for finance looking after revenue and expenditure.

" The office of the Controller of Capital Issues came under my department. I met him at my office in New Delhi.

"In my meetings with him I could read that he had an indomitable spirit and great confidence in himself. Those were the most striking characteristics of Dhirubhai Ambani. He had tremendous courage.

"His son Anil recently pointed out that his father is a fighter and will fight till his last breath. How true of the man, always a fighter.

"In fact, I remember that he came to me with a proposal to raise substantial sums of money from capital market when the Indian primary market was too small. I expressed my doubts. I asked him how can you expect so much money from the capital market?

"He replied, "I have confidence in myself and in my shareholders."

"I could visualize that Dhirubhai's attempt could provide a tremendous boost for the growth of the securities mart set a revolution in motion.

"He brought a new culture to the Indian stock markets. He was a true pathbreaker. He was a father of the new equity culture in India, and the first to visualize the potential of Indian equity market

"He was a rare man, who accepted the stiff challenge posed by multinational companies on his own terms, as he wanted his own Reliance Industries to be an MNC.

"Later, when we came closer we shared the perceptions of the political situation, too. I found that he understood the intricacies of Indian politics, especially regional politics.

"I cannot comment on whether he was pro-Congress or anti-Congress, but it was crystal clear that he was a strong nationalist and a secularist.

"He had a large number of friends across all political parties.

"We shared a close rapport as he was an industrialist and I - for most of my career - was in the finance or economic ministries.

"However, that does not mean that our friendship was 'unequal' in any way. It would be absolute bunkum to describe me, or anybody else, as 'a Reliance man.'

"Though, of course, the media is free to describe anyone as anyone's man.

"I had developed an intimate relation with him because his challenging spirit attracted me.

"We met mostly in my office; several times he came to my residence and I too visited him at his house. But I have no recollection of any emotional moment of his.

"I don't think that he was a very emotional man. We discussed mostly general issues.

"Ambani used to buy zero-tax companies. I saw his balance sheet and, in 1983, I introduce a legislation to bring minimum of 20 per cent taxation on income for the companies.

"People say Dhirubhai Ambani was a controversial man; that his success had two sides to it.

"I think most big men are controversial; they have to be by virtue of possessing a larger-than-life persona.

"It's too simplistic to say that he had lots of politicians 'in his pocket.' The economy was controlled and he had to talk to people in the economic ministries.

"You must remember that his is a rags to riches story. In the Indian corporate world, you will not find a parallel to him. He started from scratch and built this giant industrial house. Tatas, Birlas, Goenkas… all inherited their businesses. Of course, I have not met the founders of those groups. In Dhirubhai, I saw a man who grew before my own eyes, by the sheer dint of his determination, sharp business sense, focus and vision.

"That's the big difference. I didn't find one big businessman like him in my career.

"After 1986, his activities were restricted. Yet, he used to be in the know of things on matters political and business.

"I did not just like him; I liked him very, very much."

As told to Sheela Bhatt

Dhirubhai Ambani: End of an era
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