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AS a child in London, one of Karam Hinduja’s (pic) favourite pastimes was watching Bollywood movies with his grandfather Srichand Hinduja, the patriarch of a sprawling global business empire.
“He and I, without fail, once a week, whatever was new, whether it was good or bad,” Karam said in a recent interview in Geneva. “That’s a lot of how we bonded.”
Little did he know then that a quarter century later, the two of them would be embroiled in a real-life family drama more gripping than any Bollywood plot. And unlike most of the tearjerkers they watched, this one may not have a happy ending.
His grandfather, SP as the 85-year-old is known, now suffers from a form of dementia, and Karam, his sister, mother, aunt and grandmother are locked in a battle with the rest of the Hinduja family over pieces of the US$18bil (RM75.77bil) British-Indian group.
Karam’s side of the family is effectively asking for what was once unthinkable – the group’s assets to be broken up. SP’s three brothers – Gopichand, Prakash and Ashok – want the group to stick to its age-old motto that “everything belongs to everyone and nothing belongs to anyone”.
As clashes pile up in courts in London and Switzerland and the SP side suggests misogyny may be driving actions against his daughters, there may be no going backGopichand Hinduja (L), Prakash Hinduja (C) and Srichand Hinduja (R), three British-based industrialist brothers leave a New Delhi court room 19 January 2001 after appearing for a 14 million USD arms scandal involving Swedish armament firms Bofors.
The increasingly bitter feud has raised the possibility of a messy unravelling of the 107-year-old group, putting at risk one of the world’s largest conglomerates.
With dozens of companies – including six publicly traded entities in India – the closely held Hinduja Group employs more than 150,000 people in 38 countries in truck-making, banking, chemicals, power, media and healthcare.
“They seem to have reached a point of no return,” said Kavil Ramachandran, a family-business expert at the Indian School of Business. “It’s most unlikely to go back to the socialistic philosophy of everything for everybody.”
Founded by their father Parmanand Deepchand Hinduja in 1914 in the Sindh region of British India, the one-time commodities-trading firm was rapidly diversified by the brothers, with early success coming from distributing Bollywood films outside India.
The group’s heady rise let them rub shoulders with the likes of former United States president George H W Bush and United Kingdom prime minister Boris Johnson.