Auditor to inherit widow's £600m

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The Independent Online

For the last few weeks India has watched transfixed as one of its richest families has become engulfed in an inheritance drama straight out of Dallas or Dynasty, after one of its more eccentric members left her assets to her auditor.

Rajendra Lodha, a chartered accountant, stands to inherit around 50 billion rupees (£600m), as well as complete control of one of the Birla family's huge portfolio of companies, and a say in the way many of the other family companies are run.

In an extraordinary scene at the family mansion last month, with the leading family members present, it was Mr Lodha who opened the will and revealed that he was the beneficiary, to the family's astonishment. Now all the members of the often feuding family have united to stop Mr Lodha inheriting the family millions.

The struggle has been all the more piquant for the fact that it is being played out against the backdrop of a country where millions live on less than one pound a day. Calcutta, where the Birla family is based, has one of the largest homeless populations in the world.

The Birlas are one of the richest and best-known families in India. The founder of the family's wealth, GD Birla, was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, and advised him on economic matters. But where Gandhi opted for a life of poverty, to be close to his people, Birla set about turning his jute business into one of the biggest family firms in India. Today the family's assets are believed to total around £4.8bn.