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Duplicitous offspring

A Lear-like tragedy is unfolding within the upper crust of tony Sobo (south Bombay). The once flamboyant and super-rich former chairman of the prospering Raymond India Ltd, Vijaypat Singhania, who in 1998 solo-piloted a micro light single-engine airplane from London to Mumbai in 23 days to a hero’s welcome, is now in his own words “homeless”, dispossessed by his own son, Gautam to whom in a weak moment he gifted his entire shareholding of Raymond in 2015. 

The facts of the case are as sordid as they are straightforward. Two years ago, Vijaypat now in his late seventies, ill-advisedly bequeathed his entire shareholding of 37,000 equity shares of the company to Gautam. A contract signed at that time between the board of Raymond Ltd and Vijaypat, guaranteed duplex 5,185 sq. ft flats in a 47-floor residential property being re-developed by the company in the posh south Mumbai area of Breach Candy to Vijaypat, and several members of the Singhania family at the then prevailing market price of Rs.9,000 per sq. ft. It’s a telling commentary on the havoc created by rent control legislation enacted by Congress governments which have ruled Maharashtra for over 60 years, that the price of the flats has since risen to a staggering Rs.100,000 per sq. ft. 

The steep rise in the value of these apartments prompted the opportunistic Gautam — who has conveniently allotted himself a duplex apartment in Raymond House in his capacity as managing director — to demand the current market price from his father and relatives. When the latter insisted on fulfilment of the contract by the company, Gautam placed the matter before a general meeting of the shareholders who voted overwhelmingly in favour of rescinding the contract. 

From your editor’s not inconsiderable knowledge of law, the contract between the board and Vijaypat is binding because the board is the duly authorised agent of shareholders and neither the board nor shareholders are empowered to rescind the contract. Pity, the brave and competent Vijaypat who built strong foundations for the company has been duped by his duplicitous offspring. Moral of the story: don’t part with wealth and property except in your last W&T (will and testament).


Unworthy choice

One of the great leaders of the Freedom Movement was C.R. Rajagopalachari (aka Rajaji). Soon after independence, Rajaji was quick to discern that the enthusiastic imposition of the Soviet-inspired, centrally planned socialist economic development model upon the country by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru would spell disaster for the high-potential newly liberated nation, and in 1959 he resigned from the ruling Indian National Congress to found the pro market and private enterprise Swatantra Party (SP). Although in the 1967 general election the Swatantra Party won 45 seats (one more than the Congress won in General Election 2014), after Rajaji’s demise in 1972, SP disappeared from the collective consciousness of the electorate. 

For disregarding Rajaji’s counsel and message about the evils of Congress socialism, the people of India have paid a heavy price. Therefore, when Swarajya, a magazine first promoted by K. Subba Rao and Rajaji in 1956, was re-launched in 2015, your editor welcomed it in this column despite its mysterious promoters’ choice of editors, particularly R. Jagannathan (my successor as founder-editor of Businessworld who quickly drove it into the ground). These misgivings are confirmed by Swarajya suppressing a letter to the editor written by your correspondent criticising a ‘balanced’ feature published in the August issue lauding the illusory contribution of the Nehru-Indira dynasty to national development. This despite the magazine proclaiming that its mission is to encourage “freedom of expression and enterprise”. 

Your editor always had reservations about Jagannathan. For instance some three decades ago when I handed over charge of Businessworld to him after building a solid foundation for the magazine, I requested Aveek Sarkar, chief editor of the ABP Group (which then owned BW) if I might contribute as the Bangalore correspondent where I was holed up writing a novel. This modest proposal was vetoed by this insecure mediocrity. No wonder Swarajya is floundering in shallows and misery. 


Unlamented exit

There’s been a quiet, almost unannounced change at the top of the Delhi-based Central Board of Secondary Education — the country’s largest pan-India school examinations board. R.K. Chaturvedi, the overbearing chairman of this exam board which falls under the administrative purview of the HRD ministry, has been unceremoniously replaced by Anita Karwal, who was additional secretary in the HRD ministry before taking charge as chairperson of CBSE on August 31. 

Quite clearly the surprise appointment in July 2016 of Chaturvedi, an obscure IAS career bureaucrat from the Madhya Pradesh cadre who was directly appointed chairman of CBSE by the appointments committee of the Union cabinet for a term lasting until 2020, went to his head. Within a few weeks of assuming office, he issued a volley of circulars investing CBSE nominees with veto powers as members of the selection committees of affiliated independent private schools which choose their principals, introduced an eligibility test for principals and vastly expanded the powers of this board to interfere with the administration of affiliated schools. 

This prompted several independent school managements to file writ petitions in the Delhi high court arguing that CBSE is essentially an examination board with no power to interfere with the administration of affiliated schools. Moreover, as reported by EducationWorld in a detailed cover story (February 2017), several nationally top-ranked schools were/are contemplating fleeing CBSE and affiliating themselves with the rival non-government Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE). Confronted with the spectre of a massive embarrassment, the PMO (prime minister’s office) decided Chaturvedi had to go. One hopes his successor has derived a valuable lesson of the limits of power of India’s largest pan-India school exams board. 

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