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Cold ta-ta then, warm hello now
- ‘Old friends catch up’ for the first time in public gaze

Calcutta, Aug. 10: The firm handshake and the warm smiles in the lobby of Taj Bengal said it all: Ratan Tata and Russi Mody have finally buried the hatchet.

Ratan Tata and Mody — who fell out bitterly after JRD Tata anointed his nephew as the chosen successor almost 16 years ago — have met twice before, but Friday’s meeting was the first in public gaze and it signalled the end of their bitter and acrimonious relationship.

Ratan Tata was in town for the Tata Tea annual general meeting. After he wrapped that up, he headed to his hotel around 3pm where Mody, who looked frail but flamboyant in a bright red shirt, waited for him. Ratan Tata walked slowly with the nonagenarian Mody to the elevator and the two then headed to the business baron’s suite.

“Yes, I have met him but would not like to say anything else,” Ratan Tata told reporters after the meeting.

Unknown to many, the thaw in one of the most turbulent relationships in the Tata group began just over two years ago when Ratan Tata gave an interview to a newspaper in which he spoke glowingly about Mody.

Sources say Mody wrote a letter to Ratan Tata and thanked him for his kind words. The first meeting between them took place soon after when Mody went to Mumbai. Later, Ratan Tata visited Mody’s residence in Calcutta during one of his many trips to the city. Ratan Tata had also called Mody on his birthday on January 17.

Mody described today’s meeting as “old friends trying to catch up” with each other.

“Those who are acquainted with Mody know that he cannot bear ill-will towards anyone for long. As far as Mody is concerned, any acrimonious feelings he might have had would have been resolved long ago,” a source said.

Sources said the meeting could have a poignant element since it was taking place just a few months after the passing away of Aditya Kashyap, Mody’s long time associate, friend and protége.

Ironically, the feud between Tata and Mody had burst into the open in 1991 when Mody had named Kashyap as his key lieutenant in Tata Steel. Kashyap’s elevation over J.J. Irani – who had been waiting for the honour to lead the steelmaker – created a deep divide between the two doyens.

Backed by JRD, Ratan had then demanded a discussion on the issue at the board level, but was rebuffed by Mody.

Mody had also made some deeply wounding remarks about Tata and his leadership at that time. Tata was to later push through a policy that made it mandatory for chairman of all group companies to retire at 75 -- a ploy that many saw as his way to get rid of satraps like Mody and Darbari Seth of Tata Chemicals who virtually ran personal fiefs during JRD’s reign.

But the years have flown by and the bitterness has ebbed: Mody is already 90 while Tata – who wrapped up India Inc’s biggest overseas acquisition in January with a $13-billion bid for Corus and hopes to roll out his Rs 1 lakh car next year -- will celebrate his 70 th birthday on December 28.

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