Mangaluru/Bengaluru: Billionaire coffee tycoon VG Siddhartha, whose body was fished out of a river two days after he went missing, was on Wednesday cremated at his estate in his home district of Chikmagalur after hundreds of people bade him a tearful adieu.
Amid a sombre atmosphere, his son Amartya lit the funeral pyre after the last rites were performed according to the traditions of the Vokkaliga community from which he hailed. Poignant scenes were witnessed as Amartya broke down several times while performing the rituals.
Former Chief Minister SM Krishna, 87, father-in-law of Siddhartha and his wife Prema also fought hard to control their emotions.
Even as the country mourned Siddhartha's death, his 96-year-old father Gangaiah Hegde was unaware that his beloved son had passed away. When the CCD founder was reported missing, his senile father was battling for his life in a private hospital in Mysore. According to his family members, he is now slipping into coma.
Siddhartha, whose chain of cafes helped make coffee a lifestyle beverage and brought in latte, cappuccino, Americano and espresso into the urban Indian lexicon, was 59. He is survived by his wife Malavika and sons Amartya and Ishaan. Dakshina Kannada district Deputy Commissioner Sasikanth Senthil said Siddhartha's body was identified by his friends.
Siddhartha's body was found by local fishermen and patrolling policemen on the banks of Nethravathi river near Mangaluru on Wednesday, two days after he went missing. A letter allegedly written by him to the Board of Directors and employees of his company Coffee Day Enterprises, showing he was struggling with financial problems due to debt, taxes and share buybacks, came to light as well.
The search involved multiple agencies, which scoured the waters under a bridge across Nethravathi, where Siddhartha, founder of India's largest coffee chain, was reportedly last seen on Monday night, officials said. After the postmortem at Wenlock Hospital in Mangaluru, the body was taken to his home district of Chikmagalur.
Before Chethanahalli, the body was kept at Chikkamagalur for people to pay their last respects.
A large number of people from within the coffee estate and neighbouring villages, whom Siddhartha had helped come up in life, thronged to pay their homage to the 'coffee king'. Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, his predecessor HD Kumaraswamy, and several political leaders attended the funeral.
"We have found the body. I have no words to comfort the family," Yediyurappa said. "He had more assets than liabilities."
Borrowing Rs 5 lakh from his father to pursue his dreams, Siddhartha, known for being shy and self-effacing, went on to become the "coffee king", creating jobs for thousands of youth instead of joining the family business. The family-owned over 350 acres of coffee estate and had been in the business for over 140 years.
A police official said that "everything" points to suicide, but nothing can be ruled out until the investigation is over.
The authorities predicted the probable location where the body could be traced using a "model" developed by Hyderabad-based Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), which makes predictions based on current, low and high tide among other parameters, said Deputy Commissioner Senthil.
A political war also broke out over Siddhartha's allegation of harassment by the Income Tax Department as the Congress accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of betraying the people who voted for an independent and a hassle-free economy.
"There is an old notion of government has no business in business and Modi in his pre-2014 election campaign made a big deal about it. Today he has absolutely betrayed the people who voted for him to see a robust, independent, hassle-free economy," Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said on Twitter.
There is an old notion of government has no business in business & Modi in his pre 2014 election campaign made a big deal about it. Today he has absolutely betrayed the people who voted for him to see a robust, independent, hassle free economy.— Abhishek Singhvi (@DrAMSinghvi) July 31, 2019
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said Siddhartha's death reflected a "worrying trend".
Reacting to the death, the Karnataka Congress said on Twitter, "Result of harassment by IT officials and decline of India's entrepreneurial position turning virulent by the day, with Tax Terror & collapse of economy."
BJP, we don't need moral science lessons from a party full of Undertakers!Your #TaxTerrorism is sinking India's economy. Harassment by your government has taken the life of a Kannadiga entrepreneur who built a global brand and gave jobs to thousands of youngsters. https://t.co/IzGBqRhPxB— Karnataka Congress (@INCKarnataka) July 31, 2019
Former Karnataka Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah said Siddhartha's death is both "disturbing and mysterious".
"The reasons and the invisible hands that ended his life in this tragic way should be unearthed through impartial & fair investigation", Siddaramaiah said, referring to a letter purportedly written by Siddhartha in which he alleged harassment by the Income Tax department.
Siddaramaiah said the letter supposed to have been written by Siddhartha discussed "tax terrorism", which is the "ugly face of politically motivated institutions".
Coffee Day Enterprises board appointed "SV Ranganath as the interim chairman of the board" and "Nitin Bagmane as an interim chief operating officer (COO) of the company.
(With inputs from PTI)