Rumours have been rife for weeks that Ratan Tata will meet top government officials following the infamous battle between Tata Sons and ousted chairman Cyrus Mistry. But such meetings are rarely conformed by the government, and are generally sources of juicy bites and reports for the media.
Tuesday was not a lean day at north block anyway. The government’s move to demonetise notes of R500 and R1,000 last week had kept everyone -- from policymakers to bankers to the general public to media -- busy. So while people queued up outside banks and ATMs, reporters lined up outside offices of top bureaucrats in the finance ministry and fired salvos at bankers, RBI officials or whoever they could find coming out of the north block, which houses the ministry.
So when the band of reporters from television channels, newspapers and digital media caught sight of top banker KV Kamath, everyone quickly gathered around him, and soon, questions were flying from all directions.
Suddenly a voice from the crowd rose above the others: ”Ratan Tata is here to meet finance minister”.
In no time, the entire press crew was running towards finance minister Arun Jaitley’s office.
Ratan Tata emerged out of the elevator and slowly walked towards Jaitley’s office, giving a deaf ear to the flood of questions that came his way .
The meeting went on for almost an hour.
Finance ministry officials were quick to dodge the questions on the outcome of the Tata-Jaitley meeting. But reporters had found their story -- after all, this is one of the biggest, if not the biggest boardroom battle in India’s corporate history. The statements and counter statements from Tata Sons and Cyrus Mistry have already taken up a considerable amount of news time, with everyone trying to give a new twist to the tale.
This was also the first meeting between the Tatas and the government (there have been rumours that the 78-year-old Tata patriarch had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier, though it could not be confirmed).
The government has already made it clear that in the event of a complaint from a shareholder or an independent director, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs will launch a probe into the allegations made by Cyrus Mistry about corporate governance violations at the Tata Group. Market regulator Sebi is also said to be looking into the issue to avoid violations of corporate governance rules.
But there have been speculations that independent directors of Tata group companies have sought appointments with Jaitley, at a time when Tata Sons has reportedly initiated moves to oust veteran industrialist Nusli Wadia as an independent director, for siding with Mistry.
Did Tata’s meeting with Jaitley was a precursor to that meeting?
That’s a question Ratan Tata was best suited to answer. But he chose not to do so as he walked out of the north block and rode away.