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Rakesh Jhunjhunwala was not the first ‘Big Bull’ but certainly the biggest

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His deeply ingrained belief and conviction on India and its potential is strongly corroborated by some of his long-term bets – companies that will grow as domestic consumption or discretionary spends go up.

Rakesh Jhunjhunwala was not bullish on the Indian stock market. No. He was bullish on India and everything that came with it, including stocks.

He was not the first on Dalal Street – the road where BSE is located – to earn the sobriquet ‘Big Bull’. There was Harshad Mehta before him. But what made the Jhunjhunu-born Chartered Accountant stand apart was the fact that he earned it and wore it with pride for nearly four decades during which many well-known names came to the market and some even faded away.

He had strong views and, more importantly, was blunt and rather unabashed in expressing those views. His casual snide remarks during interacting with media or giving speeches were also pretty well-known.

But he was always open to hearing opposing views and, if not convinced, would respectfully say “we can agree to disagree” or “I reserve the right to be wrong”.

While he would come across as a perpetual optimist, he fancied calling himself a “realist”, always ready to bet on India. Incidentally, some of his decade-old statements related to Indian domestic institutions – instead of foreign investors – driving the Indian markets would now look prophetic.

His deeply ingrained belief and conviction on India and its potential is strongly corroborated by some of his long-term bets – companies that will grow as domestic consumption or discretionary spends go up.

His love for Titan is now part of market folklore. He has held a stake for over 10 years in companies like Escorts, Autoline Industries, Agro Tech Foods, Bilcare and Geojit Financial Services.

Even while talking about the pandemic affected Indian economy, Jhunjhunwala – at the India Today conclave last year – said: “India is coming into a phase that India has never seen, hamara time aayega nahi, hamara time aa gaya hai (India’s time will not come, it has already come).” His firm belief was that not just the decade but the entire century belongs to India.

Such catchy lines came naturally to him. More than a decade back, in one of his media interactions, he had said: “Bhaav bhagwan hai, hum kadradaan hai (price is God and we just need to appreciate that)”.

“RJ’s ability to see the future of India, was sans pareil,” says First Global’s Shankar Sharma, who was often seen with Jhunjhunwala in media debates but with opposing views.

“He saw what no politician ever did. And that fashioned his investment thinking beyond data and numbers, where we can miss the woods for the trees,” adds Sharma, who is often referred to as a ‘Bear’.

Jhunjhunwala’s hunger for a good investment and his inherent bet on ‘India Growth Story’ was visible even when his health was falling apart and he was bound to a wheelchair. What else would explain his $35 million investment last year in Akasa Air in which he held a stake of around 40 per cent.

Many in the market believe, it was a shot at creating a legacy in terms of creating a brand or a business – much on the lines of his contemporary Radhakishan Damani, with whom he worked closely during Mehta’s time, and who went on to create the present-day modern trade giant Dmart – currently among the 20 biggest listed companies of India.

Incidentally, his abrupt demise came less than a fortnight of celebrating the maiden flight of the low-cost carrier – and also less than a month and a half after celebrating his 62nd birthday.

“Rakesh Jhunjhunwala is personally going to be missed. He was always to the point and pragmatic. He really knew how to celebrate occasions as well as how to gracefully accept defeat,” says Sumit Agrawal, Founder, Regstreet Law Advisors who has advised Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and Rare Enterprises on various matters.

“He never withheld his words or tone. His departure is saddening. I distinctly remember an anecdote when he and I were going to Sebi for a meeting. It was relating to a matter where Sebi’s way of looking at certain transactions was different than his. After debating with me for long and understanding pros and cons of certain options, he suddenly said that the regulators are like your spouse. Right or wrong, you should always defer to them to keep harmony. Life is all about perspectives. Let’s settle it and move on,” adds Agrawal, a former Sebi law officer.

The ace investor who came to the stock market in 1985 with just ₹5,000 in his bank account also had a tryst with the entertainment industry, turning into a producer with the 2012 Hindi film ‘English Vinglish’, following it with two more films – ‘Shamitabh’ and ‘Ki & Ka’.

“Rakesh was a successful investor because he was more than a simple investor – he was a public markets investor and a trader, an investor in new companies and private companies,” says Samir Arora of Singapore-based Helios Capital.

“To be successful in investing you have to have an open mind and not work with some narrowly focused formula. He was very approachable while being one of the richest people of India and very open about his investment ideas and to share them with others. Genuinely (a) friendly person,” adds Arora.

Interestingly, his open mindedness — and foresight – pitted him against some of the biggest market players of the time in the early 1990s.

In 1989, a socialist government headed by V P Singh was in place and ahead of the budget, there was a huge buzz that the government would opt for a socialist budget with new taxes being introduced. It certainly did not mean well for the markets.

But Jhunjhunwala was bullish. He believed that Singh who was a ‘thakur’, understood business and so would never allow a budget that is unfriendly towards the business community.

He had taken huge positions ahead of the budget and in the coming days he saw many of his investments double in value!

Finally, if not by anything else, then his popularity can be gauged from the fact that hashtags related to Jhunjhunwala were among the top trends on Twitter on August 14. Perhaps the first time that an Indian individual stock market investor broke the Internet.

Some of the biggest names from the political class, including the prime minister, home minister and the finance minister along with the who’s who of India Inc tweeted – some to offer condolences and others to share interesting anecdotes and learnings from the man with many names – Rocky, RJ or even bhaiya (elder brother) for many.