Among Parsis, Disquiet Grows at the Sniping Between Icons Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry

A file picture of Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry. (Photo: Getty Images)

A file picture of Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry. (Photo: Getty Images)

As the scrimmage between Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry takes an ugly turn, few members of the Parsi community in Mumbai express their disappointment over the issue while others believe the community should ignore the spat.

Aritra Hazra
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Mumbai: The spat between Ratan Tata and his ousted successor Cyrus Mistry may have corporate India salivating for more twists and turns, but for the community they belong to it’s an unseemly spectacle it want to see the back of — and soon.

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For the Parsi community that is rarely if ever in the news for stories around conflict, the sense of disquiet at the open warfare between two of its showcase names is palpable, with a rising chorus of voices distressed that matters had come to such a pass.

“It is unfortunate to see both Mistry and Mr. Tata acting in such a way,” gasped Ervad Marzban Hathiram, a head priest of an Agiary or Parsi fire temple in Mumbai.

“The issue could have been handled in a better way. After all differences do take place between friends and families, but there is a way to handle it.”

Hathiram’s comments in many ways capture a feeling of collective angst in the community, an ultra-microscopic group more known for its social graces and commitment to education, institution building and philanthropy. The community, of which there exist less than 60,000 members in India, has produced some of the country’s best and brightest spanning business managers, scientists, military generals and musicians.

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The latest row between Ratan Tata, the former — and now stand-in — chairman of the group founded by his forefathers, and Mistry, a scion of the Shapoorji Pallonji clan and the son of its patriarch, erupted last week when Tata group holding company Tata Sons announced Mistry had been removed as chairman of the company for not adhering to the culture and ethos of the group. Mistry had been appointed in 2011 after a long selection process by a committee that included Ratan Tata.

Soon after his ouster, a five-page e-mail response from Mistry to the Tata board was leaked to the media, in which he spoke of his lack of empowerment during the time he was the chairman, criticized the company's corporate governance practices and Ratan Tata's role in some costly business errors. The two sides have been at daggers drawn ever since, in the process, presenting, for the wider community, a discomfiting and unflattering spectacle of two its biggest icons trading barbs.

Noshir Dadrawal, CEO of Centre of Advancement of Philanthropy, which counts a Tata trust among its supporters, said he was shocked to see Mistry and Tata behave with each other in such a way.

“The manner of ouster could have been different. I do not think that if Mr Tata would have discussed the issue with Cyrus and explained him the issue, he would have had any problem in leaving his position. I hope someone intervenes and finds a solution,” he said.

A large part of the sense of shock enveloping the community stems from the fact that it’s happening between two pillars of the Parsi community, which comprises of descendants of Persians who first landed in Gujarat in India in the ninth century. Starting off as traders, many of them migrated to then Bombay attracted by its growing profile as a major trading hub, and over the years became the early builders of an industrial India.

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While the Tata family has towered tall in the community with its reputation as nation builders, the Mistry family too, like the Godrej and Wadia business groups, have been prominent Parsi names. The Mistry family has long had ties with the Tatas. Cyrus’ elder brother Shapoor runs the Shapoorji Pallonji conglomerate, which is focused on construction and real estate. It also owns the largest individual stake in Tata Sons. The two families are related by marriage - Cyrus Mistry's sister is married to Ratan Tata's half-brother Noel.

The open sparring and allegations of malfeasance has not gone down well in the community.

Dinshaw Mehta, former chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayat, said he was deeply disturbed by the whole issue.

“We are a micro community, we should be united. Does it look good when you see two graceful people from a community locking horns like this?” he asked. “Egos currently look bigger than the community’s interest,” says Mehta.

But amid the plaintive demands for decorum and reconciliation, there are others who say the dispute pertains to business issues and other people need to mind their own business.

“Parsis have a big nose and they have this habit of putting it into other’s matters. The decision which has been taken is a business decision and it should not be interpreted into anything else,” says advocate Bapoo Malcolm.

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Tehmtan Dumasia, a businessman from South Mumbai, was even more caustic.

“There is an old saying Parsis will fight with anyone and if they don’t find anyone they will stand in front of the mirror and fight with themselves,” he quipped, while at the same time hoping that the dust settles soon.

“Although I do not know what happened internally but I hope they reach to a solution soon, we as a community should be united, no one from the community would want both of them in this kind of a situation.”

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