When industrialist Anil Ambani walked into the humble town hall of KC college in Mumbai for annual general meetings (AGMs) on Monday morning, the college premises were cordoned off by bouncers while state police offered cover. The students, who were moving around, were least bothered about what was happening inside. Some shareholders who walked into the hall were visibly unhappy, while others were wearing sympathetic smiles.
Mother, Kokilaben, wife Tina and sons Anmol and Anshul came with Anil Ambani to the venue of five back-to-back AGMs of Reliance group companies. The celebratory mood of the Ambani clan during the AGMs of Anil's elder brother, Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries (RIL), was clearly missing. The reasons were clear: most of Anil Ambani's Reliance group companies have lost 90 per cent of their market value in the last two years; one company (Reliance Communications) has been declared bankrupt; and three more businesses are in line for defaulting on loans.
Ambani's speeches started with praises for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP for their thumping victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and "big-bang reforms" of government. He blamed the crisis in financial services sector, irrational action by auditors and rating agencies for the fall of his companies.
When the shareholders' turn came, companies have tried to choose their yes-men to get the first chance. One shareholder sarcastically said the allegations of Rahul Baba (Rahul Gandhi) in the Rafale jet purchase deal has been proved wrong with the thumping victory of PM Modi. Many other shareholders wanted Ambani to induct his sons on the board of power and infrastructure companies. "We have seen Dhirubhai sitting in the middle of Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani at AGMs. Now we want Anmol and Anshul along with you on the board during testing times," a shareholder said.
The critics were less in number and remained silent most of the time. A shareholder of Reliance Power took a different path and said, "You keep praising Modi, and the same Modi ruined your company." Ambani was seen shedding his past aggressive reactions and patiently listening to attacks. Another shareholder of the power business, who introduced himself as a corporate lawyer, went to the extreme of threatening Ambani to make history by filing the country's first class action suit against the group companies as he lost about Rs 3 crore investments during the downward spiral of share prices. He wanted the issues he raised be addressed within the next two- three months.
While dissident shareholders were thundering inside the hall, other shareholders walking into the hall were heard shouting at the bouncers for aggressively frisking their bags. While the mercury was rising at the third AGM, mother Kokilaben was seen walking out and was dropped off by Anmol and Anshul, both of them dressed in similar suits, and they sported a moustache and beard. During the AGM Ambani announced that the group is exiting the home and commercial loan businesses because of defaults.
Some of the shareholders were seen asking employees about the shift in the AGM venue from the swanky Birla Matoshree in South Mumbai. An executive whispered that Ambani is an alumnus of KC college. Has the crisis forced him to go back to basics?
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