By Amit Roy
REPORTS of a split in the Hinduja family, hitherto regarded as one of the most united and respected Indian dynasties in the world, have shocked and saddened the global diaspora.
A high court case, in which Mrs Justice Falk delivered judgement last Tuesday (23), listed the claimant as “Srichand Parmanand Hinduja (a protected party by Vinoo Hinduja his litigation friend)”.
Vinoo is 84-year-old Srichand’s (SP) daughter. She appears to be the prime mover in bringing the legal action against her three uncles, possibly because she feared that with her father being very unwell, her stake in the family fortune was at risk.
She is supported her sister, Shanu, and their mother, Madhu.
The defendants are listed as SP’s younger brothers, Gopichand Parmanand Hinduja, 80, who, like his elder brother, is based in London; Prakash Parmanand Hinduja, 75, who lives in Geneva; and Ashok Parmanand Hinduja, 70, whose home is in Mumbai.
According to friends, they have made it clear that they “love Vinoo like a daughter” but cannot resist the thought she has taken advantage of her father’s poor health to make a bid for “partition” and a quarter of the Hindujas’ net wealth. This was put last year at £25 billion in Eastern Eye’s authoritative Asian Rich List which they have topped for many years.
Partition isn’t going to be easy, not least because much of the family’s wealth is tied up in trusts, although Vinoo is said to have gone to Jersey apparently to see whether these can be untangled.
The Hinduja family has many well-wishers, one of whom reflected the feelings of many when he told Eastern Eye: “Whatever the differences, we all hope these can be resolved amicably. The Hindujas are very important to India and to Britain.”
Most of the opening salvos in the court case were to do with technical issues, such as whether Vinoo could legitimately act on behalf of her father as his “litigation friend”, because she had not filed all the necessary court documents in time. Despite this, the judge decided that she could.
There were also arguments around whether Vinoo was acting in her father’s best interests. The judge ruled there was no reason to think she wasn’t, although it was revealed SP, the acknowledged patriarch of the family, had been “diagnosed with Lewy Body disease, a form of dementia”.
It also appears Gopi, Prakash and Ashok have been blocked from seeing SP, presumably because Vinoo feels they might seek to put “pressure on him”.
This can be assumed from the judgement which states “the defendants consider it ‘likely’ that SP lacks capacity and do not dispute that he is very ill. They contend however that they have been prevented from seeing him for some time.”
What the 2.5-million-strong Indian community in the UK wants to know is, how did all this happen? The Hindujas have always stuck up for India and worked to promote UK-India business and political ties. So anything that damages the family has wider ramifications.
In a sense, this is not a battle between a niece and her three uncles or between SP against his brothers, GP, PP and AP. It is best characterised, as one friend put it, as “SP against SP”.
All his life, SP has worked for family unity. When the Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, first started having differences, their father, Dhirubhai, sought SP’s advice on how to manage his difficult sons.
SP and his brothers always believed in the motto, “Everything belongs to everyone, nothing belongs to anyone”. The four saw themselves as the brothers in the Indian epic, the Ramayana – “Ram, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughna – four bodies, one soul”.
But now, according to the court ruling, SP was setting himself against his brothers and apparently going against everything he has believed all his life. No wonder Britain’s Indian community is bemused and bewildered.
To understand the Hindujas, it is essential to look at the joint family structure. Their fundamental philosophy of “work to give” and “act local, think global” is inherited from their father, Parmanand Deepchand Hinduja. He was born in Shikarpur in Sind (now in Pakistan) on November 25, 1901, and founded the family business when he moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1914.
SP and his wife Madhu have two daughters, Shanu and Vinoo, who are involved in the health and philanthropic sectors, while Gopi and his wife Sunita have two sons, Sanjay and Dheeraj, and a daughter, Rita.
Prakash and his wife Kamal have two sons, Ajay and Ramkrishan, and a daughter, Renuka, and Ashok and his wife Harsha have two daughters, Ambika and Satya, and a son, Shom.
As in many traditional Indian families, only the boys were groomed for the family business and have been allocated a “vertical” each. Sanjay, for example, has oil, while Dheeraj has been given charge of Ashok Leyland.
There is plenty to go around, for the Hinduja empire – operating in 100 countries and employing 150,000 people – takes in health; energy, power generation; automotive; finance and banking; oil and gas; IT and BPO; media and cable; real estate; trading; and defence.
India, the UK and the US are key countries in their business operations.
In London, the Hindujas are continuing with the conversion of the Old War Office, in which they have a 250-year lease, into a luxury residential and 125 room Raffles Hotel complex.
The case gets even more complicated because back in July 2014, the four brothers signed a letter that “assets held in any single brother’s name belong to all four”.
There is litigation in Switzerland over the control of the Hinduja Bank, “an asset in Srichand’s sole name”.
Vinoo, again acting on behalf of her father, is seeking a declaration that the letter has no “legal effect, whether as a will, power of attorney, declaration of trust or other binding document”.
The judge referred to “a certificate of suitability” signed by Vinoo and certified by her as correct, which stated: “My reasons for believing that the claimant is a protected party are: ‘My father, Srichand Parmanand Hinduja, is 84 years old. I live with my father and elderly mother and personally care for them both at our home in London. I am my father’s attorney under Lasting Powers of Attorney for Health and Welfare and Property and Financial Affairs which are registered with the Office of the Public Guardian.
“‘My father has deteriorated in health and is no longer able to give instructions to lawyers and so he has instructed me to do so. My father does not have capacity to conduct these proceedings due to age-related disease.
“‘As a result, with the support of my mother and sister, I am acting as my father’s litigation friend in these proceedings.’”
The judge said: “Importantly, I have no evidence that actually contradicts either the certificate from Vinoo or Madhu Hinduja’s evidence. The defendants do not dispute that SP lacks capacity, and indeed have relied on it as a basis for seeking to take control of Hinduja Bank, an asset in SP’s sole name, relying on the July (2014) letter. This is the subject of proceedings in Switzerland. In those proceedings the defendants have positively asserted that SP lacks capacity.”
She said: “I have concluded that there are no good grounds to indicate that Vinoo cannot fairly and competently conduct proceedings on SP’s behalf.”