When I-Day celebrations were almost overshadowed….

16 Aug,2022



By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiThe death of stockmarket investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala on August 14 almost overshadowed India’s Independence Day celebrations.

Media outlets were lavish in their praise of the late billionaire. They informed readers and viewers who may not be up on stockmarket that Jhunjhunwala was “India’s Warren Buffett”, that he was the “Big Bull”, and that he “always believed in India” (whatever that means) and he was a big “philanthropist”.

Jhunjhunwala also invested in companies and that often meant that those companies did very well and made a lot of money for their owners. He apparently was not a big investor in internet startups. He had recently started an airline.

And let’s not forget that he “believed in India”. Some clarified that he believed in the Indian stockmarket. Or that he felt that the Indian stockmarket had not been given its due. I quote from the Times of India’s front page: “Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, Big Bull who backed India, dead: …always believed deeply in India… unflagging belief in the country…” (see screenshot).

Of course in today’s newspaper rules, the news part (how and when) is left out or comes later on the assumption that the internet and TV got there first. So, news about what happened to the gentleman comes in para 3, after all the commentary and praise. Obviously there was no mention of Jhunjhunwala’s comment that democracy was a hindrance to growth. India’s doesn’t do obituaries, only eulogies. And to be fair, no article claimed that the late investor believed in Indian democracy.

I was however somewhat saddened by the “Big Bull” name, by just about every news outlet, because I belong to that generation where the Big Bull was Harshad Mehta. One article even said the first Big Bull was MJ Pherwani. Given the whole stockmarket scam of 1992, “Big Bull” had become a somewhat pejorative term. Clearly, times change.

I was also intrigued by the philanthropist bit. I have a crazy interest in the overall general lack of generosity of big Indian business. Belief in India or not.

An internet search for philanthropy informed me that he had invested in Asoka University. Am not certain that qualifies as philanthropy exactly.

He had also planned “in a candid admission” said Business Today, though I am uncertain why candid has been used in this context, to set up a foundation. The article from 2021 candidly admits that Jhunjhunwala did not specify what this foundation would do but that it would have a starting capital of Rs 500 crore.


America’s Warren Buffet of course has planned to give away 99 per cent of his wealth ($103 billion) to charity. And has already given away a lot.

Of the Pledge that Buffet and Bill Gates started, Wipro’s Azim Premji was one of the first Indian businesspersons to sign up, the Nilekanis, and Anil Agarwal of Vedanta have also signed up.

The news that Jhunjhunwala ($8.5 billion) wanted to give his money away is great news.

One would only wish that the media would tell us exactly what, in a few candid admissions.

Instead, we have speculation and guff.



Perhaps Jhunjhunwala’s family will fulfil his wishes.



Meanwhile, as journalists and their newsrooms forget all about Jhunjhunwala by next week, on to India’s 75th year and 76th Independence Day celebrations.

The usual high praise minus context for the Prime Minister’s speech. Uncontested were his comments on ending corruption (am certain I heard that in 2016 on the eighth of November to be precise), how women should not be insulted (also on the day, rapists and murderers of Bilkis Bano and her family were granted early freedom for Independence Day), and how family favours or dynasty and nepotism were wrong (shhh, not a word about the Union Home Minister’s son and the BCCI).

That India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was left out of several official government released and photographs did not get as much traction as it should have, in the mainstream media. Barring perhaps from The Telegraph.

Aaj Tak has to win the award here for trying to follow the BJP government diktat in erasing Nehru by sticking an anchor right in front of Nehru, while showing a film from August 15, 1947. Apparently, they later “corrected” this.

Get fooled by this if you really want to be a fool.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal


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