India's biggest sibling rivalry between Ambani brothers to end soon?
Publish- December 08, 2020, 08:33 AM
S. Kumar, UNB Delhi Correspondent - UNB Delhi Correspondent
The bitter rivalry between Mukesh and Anil began ever since their father Reliance Group founder Dhirubhai Ambani died of a stroke in 2002. Photo collected
More than 15 years after they split their late father's business empire following a bitter public feud over its control, speculation is rife that India's biggest sibling rivalry between Mukesh Ambani and his younger brother Anil could end soon.
UNB has learnt that their 86-year-old mother Kokilaben Ambani -- who brokered the Reliance conglomerate's demerger in 2005, three years after her husband's death -- is now trying her best to help her two sons get along. That too, at a time when India's richest man Mukesh is planning to split his USD 200 billion business empire among his three children.
The bitter rivalry between Mukesh and Anil began ever since their father Reliance Group founder Dhirubhai Ambani died of a stroke in 2002. Dhirubhai, who began his career as a gas station attendant in Yemen and built his empire by selling shares to small investors, had passed away without making a clear succession plan.
In 2003-04, Mukesh apparently tried to oust Anil from the business empire. However, their mother soon stepped in and ensured a split that finally happened in 2005. Mukesh retained the core energy business, while Anil got the telecom, financial services and power arms. More than 15 years on, Kokilaben is again in the picture.
"The Ambani matriarch is very close to all her grandchildren -- Mukesh’s children, Akash, Isha and Anant, and Anil’s Jai Anmol and Jai Anshul -- and she is now said to be using the proximity to broker a peace deal between the two brothers. Moreover, the cousins are very close to each other and they could play a key role too," industry sources said.
In fact, though the Ambani brothers have feuded via media interviews, meetings with Union ministers and dragging each other to courts since the split, Mukesh's bailing out of Anil last year marked a watershed moment in the relationship between the siblings.
In March 2019, Mukesh helped Anil repay USD 80 million in dues to a local unit of Swedish telecom giant Ericsson to comply with an Indian Supreme Court judgment -- a much-needed move that helped the younger Ambani avoid a three-month jail sentence. Mukesh's telecom upstart Reliance Jio then also ended a 2017 deal with Anil's Reliance Communications that had helped the latter avert bankruptcy.
Like other Indian telecoms firms, Reliance Communications started bleeding following the entry of Jio in 2016. It may be mentioned here that Jio has attracted more than 370 million subscribers to its network since its mega launch. By offering free voice calls and data at the world's cheapest price, it has already changed the country's digital landscape.
After the bail out, in a public statement, Anil had thanked Mukesh. "I am grateful, we have moved beyond the past," he said, adding that his brother’s help showed “the importance of staying true to our strong family values”.
"At the time, Kokilaben had stepped in to save her younger son and his business empire. She now wants to capitalise on last year's watershed moment to ensure a united family before Mukesh splits his business empire among Akash, Isha and Anant. Now, only the brothers and their wives need to bury their differences," said the sources.
UNB had last month reported about Mukesh's rumoured plans to hand over three core business areas of his oil-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance Industries to the younger generation, and also highlighted the industrialist's aggressive fundraising spree to make his conglomerate debt-free as well as his strategic decision to radically reduce Reliance's dependence on the flagship oil sector to diversify into telecom and e-commerce.
"This strategic shift in business areas gives the biggest indication of a dynastic transfer. And making the company debt-free will give an edge to Mukesh's children to expand their empire in years to come," Delhi-based economist Nayana Singhal had said.