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Mukesh muffles quit noise
- Reliance veteran in resignation rethink after talks

Mumbai, Nov. 24: Mukesh Ambani today scrambled to douse the controversy that erupted yesterday by persuading M.L. Bhakta, a Reliance Industries director and a close associate of Dhirubhai Ambani, to reconsider his decision to step down from the board of directors.

The Reliance chairman called on Bhakta this afternoon to make the request. Bhakta is a 27-year Reliance veteran and a legal eagle with the law firm, Kanga & Co.

The rethink by Bhakta (73) surprised corporate observers. The late-evening press statement from Reliance Industries came just hours after Bhakta had taken pains to explain to news agencies that he was stepping down only because of his advancing age.

Bhakta, who has been on the board of Reliance Industries since 1977, had written to Mukesh yesterday, expressing his desire to quit as a director.

'I cannot even imagine accepting it,' Mukesh is reported to have remarked.

Sources said that after Bhakta's decision today no more resignations were expected from the Reliance board.

Mukesh has tried to remain cool and unconcerned about the storm sparked by his recent comments. On Tuesday evening, he and wife Nita attended a wedding reception at the Turf club at Mahalaxmi Racecourse.

Sources said the couple looked relaxed and Mukesh was heard cracking a few jokes.

They interacted with the predominantly Gujarati gathering for more than half an hour.

Yesterday, Anil Ambani, too, attended a wedding ' that of Pranab Mukherjee's son in Delhi. The buzz in the grapevine was that he also conferred with a few legal experts in the capital to assess his options.

Anil was slated to make a public appearance at a suburban five-star hotel for a World Bank function today, but failed to show up.

Reporters had thronged the venue to buttonhole the younger Ambani sibling who has remained uncharacteristically silent since Mukesh's sensational interview to a TV news channel during which he confirmed there were 'ownership issues' within the family.

Corporate India and others have been waiting for Anil to respond to the salvos fired by his elder brother who yesterday asserted that he was the final authority within the group.

During his meeting with Bhakta, Mukesh recalled the veteran's association with the company since its first public issue of shares, the services rendered by him to Reliance as a valued colleague of the founder chairman and as a guide and mentor to the present leadership. 'After a warm and affectionate exchange of views, Bhakta has agreed to reconsider his resignation,' the Reliance statement said.

The timing of Bhakta's resignation, a pure coincidence perhaps, came when Reliance was weathering a storm after Mukesh's statements on 'ownership issues'.

Politics, too, made a foray into the issue. Without naming Samajwadi Party's Amar Singh, who is close to Anil, Uttar Pradesh Congress president Salman Khursheed said today: 'The influence of some people brings everyone together. Some people cause splits. Everyone knows in which category he falls'.

The younger Ambani, a sitting Rajya Sabha MP, had made it to the Upper House with the support of Amar Singh's party.

Soon after Khursheed's veiled comments, a spokesperson for Amar Singh issued a rejoinder: 'Salman Khursheed's statement does not warrant any attention. There are hundreds of people close to RIL. Amar Singh is one of them. Amar Singh wishes well for the family. He has nothing to do and nothing to gain from the ownership issue raised. It is for the family to mutually decide and settle the issue. Certain people are unnecessarily trying to politicise the whole thing.'

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