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Hindujas to Bajajs: 5 family feuds among India's richest

·6-min read

Wealthy and famous families are usually in the news for their business ventures and achievements. But every once in a while, certain families have made news for the wrong reasons. One such reason is family disputes over property.

This time round, the Hinduja family is in focus. A $11 billion business empire, spread over 38 countries that includes banks, India's second-largest truck maker and lubricant making firms, is at the centre of a legal dispute that is now in progress in a London court.

Here’s a look at some of the richest families that have washed dirty linen in public by dragging business and property matters to court. Some of these family disputes have been settled and the members have called truce, but some still linger. Take a look.

The Hinduja Family

The UK-based Hinduja brothers are locked in a legal dispute in the High Court in the United Kingdom over their multi-billion assets. The case brought by Srichand Parmanand Hinduja, 84, described as the "patriarch" of the family, against brothers G P Hinduja, 80, P P Hinduja, 75, and A P Hinduja, 69, revolves around the "validity and effect" of a letter dated 2 July 2014.

Four Hinduja brothers -- Srichand, Gopichand, Prakash and Ashok -- had in 2014 signed on a document saying the assets held by one brother belong to all, and that each of them will appoint the others as their executors. But now family patriarch Srichand Hinduja, 84, and his daughter Vinoo want the letter to be declared of 'no legal effect' and the family's assets be separated as per his wish of 2016.

Hinduja Group has presence in auto, financial services, IT, media, infrastructure, energy and chemicals and healthcare sectors. Gopichand, Prakash and Ashok tried to use the 2014 letter to take control of Hinduja Bank -- an asset that was in Srichand's sole name, resulting in the legal battle.

The Bajaj Family

The Bajaj family controls the 93-year-old Bajaj Group, best known for motorcycle maker Bajaj Auto. The group is chaired by patriarch Rahul Bajaj, who shares the fortune with cousins Shekhar, Madhur and Niraj.

But there was a time in when a dispute broke out in the third generation of this family, whose 94 year old legacy dates back to 1926. Rahul and Shishir are brothers and siblings Madhur, Shekhar and Niraj are their cousins, but the five have always been considered brothers. Interestingly, the dispute saw Shishir on one side, and Rahul, Niraj, Shekhar, and Madhur on the other.

The September meeting was also attended by Kushagra Bajaj, son of Shishir Bajaj, brother-in-law of Kumar Mangalam Birla of the Aditya Birla group, and the man widely seen as having asked for more and caused the split. Kushagra Bajaj sought transfer of two companies, a sugar producer and a consumer products maker, from the clan.

A public feud ensued at the end of which he got what he wanted. The fued lasted 7 years before being quietly settled on the last day of 2008.

Onkar S Kanwar versus Narinder Jeet Kanwar

The family that owns Apollo Tyres Ltd. is not new to feuds thanks to its Chairman and Managing Director Onkar Singh Kanwar. In 1995, Kanwar was locked in battle with his father, Raunaq Singh, from whom he was trying to snatch control of the company.

He won finally, but not before indulging in a very public spat. In 2007, one of Kanwar’s brothers, Narinder Jeet Singh, accused him of misusing the company’s funds to further increase his control over the tyre company.

Singhania versus Singhania: Vijaypat Singhania versus Gautam Singhania

Veteran industrialist Vijaypat Singhania and his son Gautam Singhania, Chairperson and Managing Director of Raymond Ltd, had property dispute that played out in the Bombay High Court. As per a 2007 family agreement, Vijaypat Singhania, his son Gautam, and the widow and two sons of Vijaypat's brother Ajaypat Singhania were to get a duplex each in JK House, a family property. But, Gautam escalated the matter to shareholders who voted against the plan.

Vijaypat Singhania transformed a small textile business into a household name in India, and the Raymond Group today claims to be the world's biggest producer of high-quality worsted wool suits. He thought he was keeping his billion-dollar Indian textile empire in the family when he gifted control of the Raymond Group to his son Gautam.

But their relationship has disintegrated irreparably over the years, with the father accusing the son of cheating him out of an exclusive apartment and of unceremoniously kicking him out of the company offices. Vijaypat would later regret the move, which he claims was made because of "emotional blackmail".

Under a 2007 agreement to settle a separate family tussle, Vijaypat says he was supposed to receive an apartment in the Singhania family's 36-storey JK House in the upmarket Malabar Hill area of Mumbai, India's financial capital.

The price agreed was far below the market value of the flat -- which is in the tens of millions of dollars -- and Gautam advised the Raymond board against selling a valuable company asset.

As the feud escalated, the board also took away Vijaypat's "chairman emeritus" title, accusing him of using abusive language in letters to the company. And he claims he was physically removed from his office and his possessions -- including a Padma Bhushan, one of India's top civilian honours -- were stolen.

Mukesh Ambani versus Anil Ambani

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve certainly known of this high-profile split amidst the brother over business rights.

From defamation suits, letters to the PM, to dragging each other to court, to finally setting aside their differences and reuniting, the Ambani brothers have weathered it all. Mukesh and Anil’s Ambani's bitter battle with each other began soon after the death of their father Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of Reliance Industries, in 2002.

For a man who founded one of India’s biggest conglomerates, Dhirubhai hadn’t vision enough to leave behind a will. in the absence of a will, elder son Mukesh became Chairman and MD of Reliance Industries Ltd while Anil was Vice-Chairman.

The feud between Mukesh and Anil became public in November 2004. In June 2005, the family reached a settlement to split the Reliance business in a deal announced by their homemaker mother Kokilaben. The formal split happened in 2006. Mukesh got the flagship Reliance Industries, with interests in petrochemicals, oil and gas exploration, refining and textiles.

Anil got telecoms, power, entertainment and financial services businesses. The rest is history, with older brother going from strength to strength and making great strides in business, and growing to be not only the richest in India but also in the world. Mukesh Ambani also stepped in to saved younger brother Anil from imprisonment by paying money (₹453 crore) owed by him to Ericsson albeit at mother’s behest.

The patching up between the brothers was initiated by their Kokilaben. No outsider was involved in the mediation.

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