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Annual gala turns into a requiem

Mumbai, Oct. 31: Melancholy hymns, clamours for a Bharat Ratna and a flood of nostalgia — the annual congregation of Reliance’s shareholders turned into a requiem for the man who made his investors millionaires.

When Mukesh Ambani waded into the hall adorned with portraits of Dhirubhai Ambani for the company’s 28th annual general meeting (AGM) today, he was besieged by emotional investors who hoped he would live up to their expectations and standards his father set.

A Reliance meeting is never a humdrum affair, but none of its past 27 AGMs have inspired images of the kind seen today. On earlier occasions, the Ambanis have pored over numbers, fielded pesky posers and exuded the optimism that would keep their heirloom humming.

Today, Dhirubhai peered over on his brood from life-size portraits, but the ubiquitous chair that resembled a throne and was a well-recognised reminder of just how high the man soared in life, was missing.

“I address you today for the first time as the chairman and managing director of your company. Memories of past AGMs are floating in my mind. In each of these meetings, I sat by the side of my father,” a sombre Mukesh told the sea of patient shareholders who had trooped in from various parts of the country to hear him.

He spoke with brother Anil, uncle Ramnikbhai and cousins Nikhil and Hital by his side on the dais. Watching him recount the past from seats in the front row were the Ambani women, and Congress politician Murli Deora.

“I can feel as if he is sitting here, smiling and talking to me and to all of you. I hear him telling me,” Mukesh said. “Dhirubhai achieved the miracle Reliance is with your unflinching support. We will take it to greater heights,” he vowed to a thunderous applause.

Among the first shareholders to speak at the meeting that lasted close to five hours was a young girl who sang a hymn in tribute to Dhirubhai. Another investor drafted an impromptu resolution paying tributes.

The eulogies did not end there. Some investors said the government should be convinced about a posthumous Bharat Ratna for Dhirubhai. Others were less flattering, settling on a postal stamp. Still another man had a list of dos and don’ts for the wordsmith the junior Ambanis could hire for a much-awaited panegyric.

Then, there was a former general manager of UTI, who said the mutual fund should stay invested in Reliance.

By the time it was over, the AGM, the longest in Reliance’s history, seemed like a condolence call in honour of its founder. “We will record this for posterity. “Fifty or hundred years from now on, RIL shareholders will be reminded of our history,” Mukesh said.

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