The latest news that the apples of discord have divided the London-based Hinduja brothers, one of the greatest entrepreneurial families of Indian business, has aroused mixed feelings in your editor who has interacted with them off and on for over four decades. On the one hand, it’s impossible not to admire their sharp business acumen, and capability to quickly spot strategic opportunities and carpe diem. The four brothers Hinduja built their initial fortune in Iran under the ruthless autocratic rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi (1941-1979) and fled Iran just before Ayatollah Khomeini radicalised the country into an austere clerical autocracy.
In the UK as well, the enterprising Hindujas rapidly built their second fortune which soon dwarfed their first, and acquired far greater political influence than they ever had in Iran or India where they prudently invested only a small portion of their huge fortune. To the extent that in the 1990s when Srichand Hinduja’s citizenship application ran into rough weather, prime minister Tony Blair reportedly cleared it directly. Soon their business operations and clout spread to continental Europe, India and the Middle East. In 1978, the plutocrats joined the exclusive fraternity of foreign nationals allowed to establish a bank in Switzerland (Hinduja Bank).
Inevitably in the heyday of neta-babu socialism (1970-90), entrepreneurial capabilities and extraordinary business management expertise had little value in India, and the Hindujas had an unsavoury reputation. At that time as editor of Business India and Businessworld, your correspondent was the first to extol their business and finance expertise. However, one also became aware that they were totally focused on primitive capital accumulation.
Despite the positive write-ups the said business magazines gave them, they were tight-fisted about reciprocating by way of occasional advertising. Ditto with then struggling EducationWorld, despite the brothers’ professed interest in matters educational. Admittedly they are not legally obliged, but the unwritten social contract is that it’s obligatory for prosperous business enterprises to lend a small helping hand to struggling enterprises labouring in the broader public interest. Especially if they have spoken up on their behalf. Hence the schadenfreude.
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