Raian Karanjawala on his friends Ratan Tata, Arun Jaitley, and Rupert Murdoch


August 30, 2023

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His relationship with these luminaries deepened over decades, as Karanjawala was by their side through good times and bad.


Article by S N Thyagarajan | Money Control

Raian Karanjawala and his eponymous law firm is known for representing some of the biggest companies and personalities in both political and commercial courtroom clashes. Karanjawala is also known for his close association with the late Arun Jaitley, Ratan Tata, and Rupert Murdoch.

The lawyer knew Jaitley, a renowned Senior Advocate and former Finance Minister, right from college up to his final days.

Karanjawala got to know media tsar Murdoch while representing Star TV in a number of cases. The channel was owned by Murdoch from 1993 to 2013.

His relationship with Tata began about three decades back, when he represented the group in a high-profile case.

In this conversation with Moneycontrol, Karanjawala reminisces about his experiences with the three icons.

Ratan Tata

Karanjawala represented Ratan Tata in his battle with Cyrus Mistry after the latter was ousted as the Chairperson of the Tata group in a board meeting. Karanjawala’s firm successfully defended Tata and obtained a verdict in his favour.

“My journey with the Tatas began sometime in 1996, when Nusli Wadia introduced me to the Tata group, and I appeared, along with Ram Jethmalani, Arun Jaitley, and Mahesh Jethmalani, for Mr RK Krishna Kumar in what was known as the ‘Tata Tea ULFA’ case’,” he said.

The case pertained to the arrest of some of the company’s employees for their alleged connection with ULFA, a banned militant outfit in Assam. According to Karanjawala, since it was a very high-profile matter for the group, Ratan Tata took a personal interest, and this was when he first interacted with the man.

Karanjawala again defended the Tatas in the Supreme Court, this time in a case where there was an attempt made to ban diesel cars. Tata Motors had just released their diesel car called Indica. “The success of that launch depended to a large extent on the outcome of the case. We were fortunate to get a positive result once again, and that re-established my bond with Ratan Tata,’’ explained Karanjawala.

Over the years, he has represented the Tatas multiple times and obtained orders in their favour in many cases. “My relationship with the Tatas continued on a regular basis, and my personal interaction with Mr Tata increased. However, we began to interact socially only when I appeared for the group in its fight with Cyrus Mistry,’’ Karanjawala reminisced.

“I have found that with people of such eminence, you always learn something (if you are observant) from most meetings with them, not because of what they say, but how they behave, react to certain situations, etc. I have a lot of affection and admiration for the man,” he added

Arun Jaitley

Jaitley and Karanjawala first met in 1972 when they were students at Shri Ram College of Commerce. “I got into student politics and English debating because of him,” he remembers.

When Jaitley was arrested during the Emergency, Karanjawala says he was one of the few people who kept in touch with him. “I used to visit him in court when he was brought from jail for a particular case. We were very close from the beginning, and it stayed that way till the end,” he said.

Jaitley and Karanjawala were part of a closely-knit group of friends comprising former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, and Senior Advocates Rajeev Nayyar and Anip Sachthey. “We were family friends and used to holiday together, meet every Saturday for lunch, and it has stayed that way even today,” Karanjawala added.

He describes Jaitley’s style of governance as ‘balanced,’ and adds that “His reaction to most things was thought-through and appropriate. He always avoided an extreme path, and therefore, by taking the middle-of-the-road approach, carried everyone with him.” Karanjawala recollected how Jaitley skilfully navigated choppy political waters to get the Goods and Service Tax (GST) introduced in the country.

Rupert Murdoch

Karanjawala recollects meeting Murdoch for the first time in 1993, which was incidentally also the latter’s first visit to India. “I was introduced to him and his legal team by a friend of mine called Iqbal Malhotra, and after my first interaction with Murdoch, I was appointed as the Legal Advisor of what was to become STAR TV.” Karanjawala’s firm has been advising the group ever since.

Karanjawala recollected an interaction with Murdoch when they were all hosted at Wadia group chief Nusli Wadia’s house for dinner. “I remember asking him for his view on family members joining the business, and I remember his response vividly. He said: `See, Raian, anybody can get work, there is no problem, any family member is welcome to join the firm. But the ship can have only one captain’.’’ Because of this Karanjawala believes that Murdoch always wanted to leave behind only one successor, who will then lead the company.