The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Birla Park leaves the door open for Lodha

Calcutta, July 17: Even as the battle of wills between the Birlas and R. S. Lodha continues to rage, it is becoming clear that the doors haven’t really been slammed on the chartered accountant-turned-inheritor of all the wealth of the MP Birla group.

At the centre of the controversy is the will of the recently deceased Priyamvada Birla, the wife of the late M. P. Birla, in which she gave all the assets of the MP Birla group — estimated at Rs 5,000 crore — to Rajendra S. Lodha, who does not belong to the family.

The Birlas are challenging the will. As they await a response from the Lodhas to their notice to furnish a copy of the will, the first family of India Inc is upping the ante against Lodha and his two sons, Aditya and Harsh.

At Birla Building, the corporate hub of the family in Calcutta that has taken on the looks of a fortress, the Lodhas are not welcome. Birla Corp, the MP Birla group’s flagship company is headquartered in the building, and Priyamvada Birla made Lodha its co-chairman.

But Birla Park — where several patriarchs of the family reside — hasn’t shut its iron gate on Rajendra S. Lodha even as the Birlas prepare for a protracted court battle with him.

Lodha attended the Bhajan Sandhya on completion of the 13th day of the mourning period after Priyamvada Birla’s death.

On Friday morning, Lodha is reported to have paid another visit to the Birla bastion.

All eyes are now firmly set on Tuesday’s board meeting of Birla Corp, when it will be known whether Lodha will be allowed to enter Birla Building. Birla Corp’s board meetings have traditionally taken place there.

But as the shots ring out loud and clear in the opening skirmishes, the Marwari business community faces the difficult prospect of having to choose between the two sides.

The message coming out of the series of meetings — chaired by family elders K. K. Birla and B. K. Birla since Monday, when the will was disclosed, on Floor No. 15 of Birla Building and at the residence, Birla Park — is that often divisive but now entirely united clan will do everything possible to put the Lodhas on the defensive.

Lodha’s alleged “breach of trust” is a weapon in this exercise.

“Being the auditors, the Lodhas should have suggested the best use of the funds of their client (Priyamvada Birla). But the senior Lodha tried to usurp the MP Birla group’s assets,” said a family source.

It’s not only in Calcutta that the Birlas are turning up the heat. On Thursday, a statement from the family was issued in Mumbai — a move that was interpreted by many as telling the world that Kumar Mangalam Birla, who has not been in Calcutta during the past days of drama, is very much a part of the war cabinet. Yesterday, another statement was issued in Mumbai. The strategy seems to be to issue a statement every day and keep Lodha off balance.

Also in Delhi, the Birlas have aggressively started hiring lawyers, apprehending that the case will reach the Supreme Court.

To cramp Lodhas for legal resources, the Birlas are approaching the country’s top lawyers and booking them.

“If the case reaches Delhi, the Lodhas may find it difficult to get quality lawyers to argue their suit,” said a Delhi-based solicitor.

There are rumours that the Birlas have started to take the political establishment in Delhi into confidence. One wing of the clan is close to the Congress.

“A section of the family wants to keep the people in the power circles posted about the developments as the stakes are very high in this case,” a source said.

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