Monday, Aug 08, 2022

Dhirubhai, R.I.P

Arguably the most powerful man in India, his huge success dwarfed the controversies of wheelings and dealings that surrounded him but his overall warmth and humility won him many friends and well-wishers cutting across the full spectrum of society.


Never before had an industrialist's death brought such a crowd at the funeral. But then Dhirajlal Hirachand Ambani,  Dhirubhai to all, was no mere industrialist.

Indeed, the collective stream of visitors had begun with the news of his hospitalisation on June 24. Mumbai's Breach Candy Hospital had became a gathering ground of the who's who of the country. Politicians, industrialists, film stars—it seemed as if there was no one whose life Dhirubhai had not touched. 

The trust and faith in the man was almost infinite. Stories about his humility, power and  reach are the stuff of urban legends. At the height of Indo-Pak tension, many of his supporters believed that even in the case of war, his Jamnagar refinery would remain safe. Dhirubhai has the goodwill of many top Pakistani generals, they whispered confidently. 

Such was the belief in the man. A businessman who had known him closely summed it up best"If the doctors can just get him back to his senses, Dhirubhai will pull through. We have faith in his willpower."

But it was not to be. The man who wouldn't ever give up, finally went down fighting the grim battle for survival for 13 days at the Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai. The end came finally at 11:50 PM on Saturday. At 7.30 am, Dhirubhai’s body was brought to his residence, Sea Wind, at Cuffe Parade in south-Mumbai where it was kept on Sunday morning and afternoon for last respects while children Mukesh, Anil, Nina and Dipti and daughters-in-law Neeta and Tina stood by.

And thousands turned up to pay their respects in one never-ending stream of visitors. Covering the full spectrum of society. From the leaders of India Inc to the stars of bollywood, from the politicians and senior bureaucrats to shareholders and employees. From children in parents' arms to the the old, carried in chairs. It was a veritable who's who of India, from Ratan Tata to Amitabh Bachchan to Bal Thackeray. From emissaries from the prime minister to the leader of opposition. And ministers and chief ministers cutting across party lines through the special gate that was set up for VIPs to enter away from the crowds that were thronging the main gate. 

By around 3.30 P.M, people were asked to leave the premises so that arrangements could be made to take the body for cremation, but outside the crowds just swelled, pleading with the security guards to allow them in. 

The body was taken to Marine Lines in an open truck with sons and family members and associates standing beside brothers Mukesh and Anil. but the streets were packed with thousands of people -- on trees, on the foot-overbridge, even on electric poles. For the last 15 metres, Dhirubhai’s body was carried on his sons’ shoulders. At 6 pm, it was taken inside the crematorium. 

"Dhirubhaiji amar rahe (Long live Dhirubhai)" screamed the crowds as many lunged towards the body, just to touch it, in the hope perhaps that his Midas touch would rub off on them, struggling towards his body, braving police lathis.

Many of these may have been those who had become lakhpatis by merely buying his company’s shares at the right time. But there were many to whom he was an idol to be emulated. A real story in a city that sells tinsel dreams of  rags to riches.  

"Dhirubhai will go one day," he had said in an interview long back, "but Reliance's employees and shareholders will keep it afloat. Reliance is now a concept in which the Ambanis have become irrelevant."

Mukesh and Anil Ambani, his sons who have largely been responsible for Reliance's meteoric rise since Dhirubhai's first stroke in the 80s, have not become irrelevant, but Dhirubhai does leave behind a concept that has captured the imagination of many an entrepreneur: can do.