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Birla Blues

JM

If the late Priyamavada thought the riches must to go the outsider, so be it. And if the Birlas think it is not in the fairness of things, let them move court. But let us please not throw the late lady' wishes to the garbage citing Outsider principles.

The hullabaloo over The Priyamvada Will has left me flabbergasted. Was the will genuine? Did Priyamvada leave Rs. 5,000 crore of the family estate she inherited from her late husband and industrialist MP Birla to a professional with the group, ignoring several worthies to the throne? If the will is not genuine, as the Birla Bigwigs seem to think, how do they plan to prove it? Also, if the late lady, in full possession of her faculties wanted to bequeath her entire wealth to RS Lodha, how is he going to prove his credentials? 

For the uninitiated, Priyamvada Birla, wife of late Mr. MP Birla passed away 11 days back, leaving no children and a vast industrial empire. On Tuesday, a gentleman called RS Lodha flashes Priyamvada's will, which bequeaths all her property to him. Mr. Lodha is the co-chairman of Birla Corporation, the group flagship, and has been associated with the group for long as chartered accountant. He was the blue-eyed boy of the late Priyamvada, who promoted him after the demise of her husband. Other Birlas are incensed at the thought of family property going to a rank outsider and call the lawyers. 

There we stand. What next? Its almost certain that the Birlas will move the court, challenging the validity of the document. Priyamvada's state of mind when the will was prepared could be doubted. Aspersions may be cast on the genuineness of the will. Hello, get me some popcorn, this show is gonna be long. 

The Birlas, I feel, have every right to question the genuineness of the will, if they feel it is fake. Surely, you wouldn't want your wealth falling into the wrong hands through a faulty will, would you? Again, if the old lady was not in her proper frame of mind when the will was made, it cannot be treated as the right document with which the riches of the family are handed over. 

Also, one of the heirs to the throne, if the lady had passed away without a will, would have been Yashowardhan Birla, who was brought up by Mr & Mrs MP Birla, after the sad demise of his father in a plane crash. The will produced by Mr Lodha does not mention Yashowardhan or any other family member. The brevity of the will - hardly 4 lines - has eyebrows raised too. If the Birlas are convinced that the will was fake, or was made when Priyamvada was not in a normal state of mind, they must fight the battle against the "usurper" to the highest courts. 

What cheeses me off is not the authenticity of the will or the lack of it, but the other basis on which the Birla Bigwigs have drawn the swords. The more vocal Mr BK Birla's sound-bytes in the last couple of days have been more about the "Outsider" carting away the group's wealth and entering MP Birla group companies' hallowed boards of directors. Herein lies the rub. According to the rules of succession under Indian Succession Act, Ms Priyamvada's will supercedes the natural succession principle, whereby Mr Yashowardhan and others would have been the beneficiaries of her riches. 

The Birla empires are among the most-respected in this country. The young and most successful Birlas have been sources of inspiration for many. They are known as progressive, professional gentlemen and men of grit rather than inclusive people with feudal mindsets. This the time when the country will watching how they tackle a challenge thrown up by fate. Outsiders, usurpers and other bogeymen must not be art of the Birla Lexicon. The judicial system will establish if any skullduggery is involved. Otherwise, if Priyamvadaji had the right and desire to bequeath her wealth to Mr Lodha, the Birlas should be the ones to execute her will. 

PS: 

I remember an argument I had a couple of years with my retired father over the issue of inheritance. It was (and still is) my conviction that the one who earned/inherited the wealth should have the prerogative to decide who it will go to. If my dad did not want to will any of his meagre wealth to me, he is perfectly right in doing so. I didn't earn it; he did. I illustrated it with an example. Suppose a father has three sons -- one gentleman who takes care of the family, another criminal son who is hardly home and another neutral character -- how should the father divide his wealth? Equally? I argued that I would bequeath my wealth to the good son, but any parent should have the prerogative to decide how to do it. I think the same about the Birla group also. If the late Priyamavada thought the riches must to go the outsider, so be it. And if the Birlas think it is not in the fairness of things, let them move court. But let us please not throw the late lady' wishes to the garbage claiming 'outsider' principles.

BY JM

 

 

 

 

 

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