: `I got an HIV test done. I do not have AIDS’ : Was he dead or hiding? That was the big story about tycoon Subrata Roy until TOI found him in Lucknow. And persuaded him to give his first bare-all interview.. Diwakar & Abheek Barman of Times of India have met him and reported on 9-6-05 in Lucknow found him fit and healthy… Obituaries for Subrata Roy — chief of the Rs 50,000-crore Sahara empire — have been premature.
Not only is this 57-year-old flamboyant tycoon alive and healthy, he looks trimmer than before, having shed 15 kg in the last three months. However, dogged by persistent rumours that he’s critically ill, or possibly dead, he posed for our photographer in his 100-acre estate in Lucknow, playing badminton, cricket, billiards and golf, doing yoga and pumping iron. To clinch the debate about the state of his health, he also produced a medical certificate that declares him to be free of any disease. “I have got an HIV test done and I do not have AIDS,” he said.
The Times of India met him on Wednesday evening for an exclusive interview at his spanking new office here in Sahara City, as his estate is called. From 7:30 in the evening, he spoke till almost midnight on subjects ranging from his succession plans, his political friends and business ventures — apart from, of course, his health.
Roy said he had been diagnosed with blood pressure surges resulting from his stressed lifestyle, but this was a condition that he had suffered from as early as 1987. This time, however, he came under tremendous pressure from his mother Chhabi Roy, wife Swapna and children Sushanto and Seemanto, to change his lifestyle and shake off his ailment.
As a result, he’s given up alcohol and cigarettes, eats mostly vegetarian food, is down from six rotis or paranthas to two, and makes sure that he gets at least six hours of sleep undistracted by late-night revelry. Did he and buddy Amar Singh, as people close to Mukesh Ambani allege, stoke the acrimonious dispute between Mukesh and Anil over control of Reliance? Roy said he’s dismayed by the dispute. “It’s very sad and troubling to see Mukesh and Anil fight. I’ve talked to them many times and the only thing I can tell them now is to get over with it as fast as possible,” he said, shaking his head.
Later, in another context, he said, “I had great admiration for Dhirubhai who I used to meet regularly. While he was alive, Reliance was India’s largest first generation company. Today, that position belongs to Sahara.” However, the Ambani dispute did influence his decision to settle the future of his company. Roy dismissed all talks of a succession plan that would see his sons Sushanto and Seemanto taking over the Sahara group. “Sahara is a family, it can’t be split up and given away to two children or to anyone like that. Sahara will not have any owners and will be run by a trust which will make it impossible to split the group in 200 years,” he said.
A trust, not my sons, will run Sahara’
By Diwakar & Abheek Barman/TNN
Lucknow: Subrata Roy’s putting the final touches to a trust to run the Sahara group. It will include people from all ranks of the group and Roy family members, where all shareholding will be sunk. Trustees won’t be paid by the company, but from returns on a corpus that will be created for this purpose.
Has the change of government affected his business? “Not one bit,” he told TOI, dismissing speculation that the UPA regime was gunn ing for Sahara because of Roy’s proximity to Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose relations with Congress has been strained. He said RBI has restricted the amount of money that Sahara’s para-banking business can invest in other ventures to only 10% of its corpus. But the UPA government wasn’t responsible for this as the process was started during the NDA regime. He also said the change in rules would not impact his business, partly because of some concessions agreed to by RBI.
Asked about the source of Sahara’s cash gush and speculation that much of this money comes from the undisclosed funds of politicians and celebrities, Roy reacted emphatically. He said every paisa was accounted for and Sahara has never taken “do numbar ka paisa” from anyone. He said the I-T department had tried to press charges against Sahara for many years, with no success.
Roy dismissed speculation in many quarters that Sahara was struggling to find new funds. He claimed that he spent much of his recuperation time drawing up investment plans worth Rs 200,000 crore in areas like housing, infrastructure, Hollywood offshoring, services and tourism. He claimed that Michael Douglas would soon become the key liaison in a Hollywood-Sahara partnership.
Asked if his relations with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was strained and why did she not attend the wedding of his two sons last year, Roy said she had told him that she would try to make it but could not, possibly because she generally avoids such public functions. How did Roy preserve his relationship with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, despite supporting Raj Babbar who contested the 1996 Lok Sabha election against him in Lucknow? Roy said the decision to support Babbar could have been wrong politically, but he was morally in the right.
From the 1980s, when Sahara was a small struggling company and Roy would tour villages of UP and Bihar to solicit deposits, Raj Babbar was always there to accompany him on these trips. “He did not have to do it, he was already a star and I was a nobody. But he became Sahara’s first brand ambassador. He is part of the family. How could I let him down? Though some detractors did try to poison his mind about this, Atalji understood why I had stood beside Raj,” he said.
Asked about his closeness to Mulayam, he admitted that they had a special equation, but he said that he has friends across political parties. “When Rajnath Singh called at 1.30 am and asked for two planes to Lucknow by 5 am to ferry MLAs in 1997, I had to oblige because Rajnath is a friend. But that decision went against Mulayam didn’t it? I don’t let politics get in the way of friendships.”
In fact, Roy claimed that he’s the panchayat head of three exclusive groups of friends from politics, movies and cricket. “Whenever these people quarrel amongst themselves, I have to step in and resolve things and get everyone back on track again.”
Source The Times of India dt 10-6-05
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