Subrata Roy, the founder of the Sahara Group, who built a sprawling business empire in India after starting with just $30 in capital, died on Tuesday in Mumbai. He was 75.
The company said in a statement that Roy died after long battles with cancer and other illnesses. His death closes the chapter on one of India’s most remarkable rags-to-riches stories and one of its most controversial tycoons.
Roy was born in 1948 in the small town of Araria in the eastern state of Bihar, the son of a small businessman. His origin story has become the stuff of legend in India.
As a young man, he moved to eastern Uttar Pradesh, bringing minimal savings but a wealth of ambition. In 1978, he started a small financing firm called Sahara India with just $30 to his name.
Through grit and flair, Roy grew Sahara into a sprawling conglomerate active in industries ranging from finance to real estate, media, hospitality, manufacturing and aviation. At its peak, Sahara employed over a million people, leading some to call it “the second largest employer after the Indian Railways.”
As the self-made tycoon’s star rose, he relished the spotlight and developed a reputation for glitz. Sahara hosted extravagant parties studded with movie stars and politicians. Roy cultivated relationships across India’s political spectrum, counting powerful figures like Mulayam Singh Yadav as personal friends. He was “a visionary and inspirational leader who helped countless people,” Yadav said after Subrata Roy’s death.
Roy’s Rolodex and rags-to-riches narrative led some to brand him “the people’s billionaire.” He embodied “the great Indian dream,” one businessman told the BBC.
But in time, Mr. Roy’s storybook ascent was clouded by controversy.
In the 2000s, Sahara was scrutinised for its unlicensed financial schemes, which collected billions from small investors. When the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) intervened, a lengthy legal battle led to Subrata Roy’s arrest in 2014 for failing to repay billions his company had raised illegally.
The tycoon spent over two years in jail before being granted bail for health reasons. But Sahara never fully recovered. Subrata Roy surrendered many of the company’s prized assets, like New York’s Plaza Hotel, to raise funds and pay investors. Earlier this year, Sahara launched a website for people to claim refunds from the schemes that landed Subrata Roy in legal trouble.
While the full scale of Sahara’s financial machinations may never be known, Mr. Roy’s stunning reversal of fortune made him a polarising figure. To critics, he personified corrupt business practices; to fans, his fall from grace was profoundly unfair.
Sahara Group chairman Subrata Roy Sahara passed away on November 14 at around 10.30 pm due to cardiorespiratory arrest after a prolonged battle with complications arising from metastatic malignancy, hypertension and diabetes.
The Sahara Group founder was admitted to the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital & Medical Research Institute (KDAH) in Mumbai on 12 November after his health deteriorated.
The Sahara India Pariwar, founded by Roy in 1978, was the title sponsor of the Indian national cricket and hockey teams and Bangladesh’s cricket team. In 2011, the group also bought a stake in Formula One team Force India.
The Sahara group also owned the now-defunct Pune Warriors India, in cricket’s lucrative Indian Premier League.
Sahara’s influence on Indian cricket was unmistakable, and when news of his tragic demise broke out, the cricketing world took to pay tribute to the once business tycoon.
Former Indian cricketer Suresh Raina took to social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to pay tribute to Sahara.
Yet another former Indian cricketer who took to social media to pay his tribute to Sahara, was Yuvraj Singh.
Yuvraj, in his post on X, mentioned the special connection he shared with Sahara, who was instrumental in aiding Yuvraj when he was diagnosed with mediastinal seminoma, a rare form of cancer in his lungs, back in 2011, and thanked the business icon for his continued support through the rough period.
The mortal remains of Sahara Group chief Subrata Roy, who passed away at a private hospital in Mumbai a day ago, will be flown to Lucknow on Wednesday, where his last rites will be performed on Thursday.
Mr. Roy leaves behind a profoundly complex legacy. To employees and partners, he was a visionary leader who built an empire and touched countless lives through work and philanthropy.
“His loss will be deeply felt by the entire Sahara India Pariwar,” the company said.
But his reputation is also indelibly tarnished by legal transgressions. Regardless of where one stands on Roy, his extraordinary journey from humble beginnings to dizzying heights and back again will be remembered as one of India’s most remarkable business tales.
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