Subrata Roy: Story of rags-to-riches and eventual  fall

A senior politician who has closely seen Roy’s growth and eventual downfall described the businessman as Robinhood, but only for the rich people.

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NEW DELHI: During the most of 1990s and 2000s, Subrata Roy, founder of vast business empire Sahara Group, was celebrated as India’s success story. His rags-to-riches story added to his larger-than-life persona.Among his employees, called members of Sahara Pariwar, Roy had a near cult-like following. Come the 2010s, things took a turn for the entrepreneur and his conglomerate.

He was accused of running a ponzi-like scheme, which duped millions of households with billions of dollars. Roy, who just a few years back was a celebrated figure, was now being looked down upon. From court cases to serving jail time, his glory days were over and he remained out of the media spotlight during the last years of his life.

He died on November 14 at 75 following an extended battle with complications from metastatic malignancy, hypertension and diabetes. His funeral ceremony was a closed affair and there were barely any words of condolences from people who were thought to be his friends.

Rich folk’s RobinHood

Born in 1948 in Bihar, Roy’s early life was full of ups and downs. Even though he was born into a well-to-do family, things took a turn after the death of his father. Roy is said to have sold snacks on a scooter before taking over a struggling finance company called Sahara in 1978. A young Roy then steered the company, which at a point in time had a capital of only Rs 2,000, to a conglomerate, which was seen in the realms of Tatas and Reliance.

A senior politician who has closely seen Roy’s growth and eventual downfall described the businessman as Robinhood, but only for the rich people. “Sahara Group companies collected funds from crores of people from the hinterland and Roy spent these lavishly on politicians, movie stars and sports personalities,” the politician said requesting anonymity.

He added that while the poor and middle-class were sold the Sahara dream, it was Roy’s rich pals who were living the dream. “Roy had a fleet of personal jets, which were often used by his pals like one uses an Uber service now. They all stayed in his fancy properties. Roy saved a cinema superstar when his company went bankrupt. He funded politicians in their election campaigns and sponsored the national cricket team for years. Everyone, except for the millions of Sahara investors, benefitted from him,” the politician said.

At its peak, Sahara owned a stake in a Formula One racing team and an IPL cricket team. The group also owned an airline, which was sold to Jet Airways and was a big real estate player. In the global arena, Sahara owned New York’s landmark Plaza Hotel and London’s iconic Grosvenor House.

Legal trouble & silent demise

Sahara Group faced scrutiny from regulators and courts after his group firms were accused of circumventing existing norms with ponzi schemes. After a detailed inspection it was found funds raised by two Sahara Group firms violated capital market rules and regulations, Sebi in 2011 ordered Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Ltd (SIREL) and Sahara Housing Investment Corporation Ltd (SHICL) to refund the money to the tune of Rs 25,000 crore raised from 3 crore investors via certain bonds known as optionally fully convertible bonds (OFCDs).

Roy was arrested in 2014 after he failed to show up in court and spent a little over two years in jail. Since then, his name mostly appeared in cases related to refunds. His close pals from his glory days are said to have maintained a good social distance from him.

In 2020, Roy was again in the spotlight. However, this is something he would have not wanted. He was included in a Netflix series called ‘Bad Boy Billionaires: India’ along with Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Ramalinga Raju. The four achieved predominant success in their businesses during their lifetime before being accused of corruption. Roy’s episode was called “The World’s Biggest Family”, which showed how Roy took his Sahara India Pariwar conglomerate to dizzying heights before facing accusations of enticing poor investors into a pyramid scheme.


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