There are people who are rich and there are ones who are wealthy. There is a big difference between the two as wealth is accumulated over generations, unlike many of the present day leaders who are nouveau riche.
To the wealthy belongs one of the leading industrialist families in the country Dr. A.C. Muthiah, 77, former President, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), who does not wear wealth on his sleeve.
Star of Mysore Features Editor N. Niranjan Nikam caught up with the very rooted, humble, self-effacing and genuinely caring human being, while he was on a visit to the Mysore Race Club (MRC), to see his horses running. Dr. Muthiah, with his wife Dr. Devaki Muthiah by his side, while having lunch at the MRC Club House, in this free-wheeling interview, spoke in his baritone voice about how the Chettiars earned their wealth, his family connections with ‘who is who’ in the country, about the contributions of his legendary father M.A. Chidambaram to cricket, his family business, about the racing legend M.A.M. Ramaswamy and why he was forced to sack Mohammad Azharuddin. Excerpts. — Editor
By N. Niranjan Nikam
Star of Mysore (SOM): Sir, you are from a ruling dynasty. Your grandfather Annamalai Chettiar was the Raja of Chettinad. Can you throw some light on this interesting aspect?
A.C. Muthiah: My grandfather was given the title Raja of Chettinad by the British. There are two people who got it, one was my grandfather and the other was Raja Sir Savalai Ramaswami Mudaliar. I do not know what happened to that family.
My grandfather comes from Chettinad. There are about 99 villages there. It was my grandfather who grouped the villages together and made Chettinad as the centre of all these villages. He built the Annamalai University. He was mainly a financier. He had banks called the Chettinad Bank in Burma. He had land holdings there and it was about hundred thousand acres. When the second World War broke out, we lost all our lands and everything else. He came here and started the Indian Bank and then Annamalai University. He moved a lot of his assets to Sri Lanka.
He had three sons — eldest was Raja Muthiah Chettiar, the late M.A.M. Ramaswamy’s father, who was my first cousin. Second one was a Member of the Parliament Ramanathan Chettiar and third was my father M.A. Chidambaram. It was my father who ventured into industry. My uncle Ramanathan Chettiar was into banking. My father started the Lambretta Scooter. You remember this scooter?
SOM: Yes sir. Your father M. A. Chidambaram was a legend. Going very briefly through the Coffee Table book on him titled ‘Vision Unlimited’ was a unique experience. How do you look back on him after all these years?
A.C. Muthiah: No doubt my father was a legend. He had a very good networking with all the Maharajas and some of them used to be very close to him; Maharajas of Baroda, Gwalior, Nawab of Pataudi were some of his close friends.
SOM: What about the Maharaja of Mysore?
A.C. Muthiah: No, he was very friendly with my uncle Ramanathan Chettiar. Do you remember the Maharaja of Mysore Jayachamaraja Wadiyar? He and my father sponsored R. Krishnan, tennis player, to go abroad. I will share an anecdote about the Maharaja with you.
Our family invited Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wadiyar for one of my uncle’s 60th birthday. My wife and I went to receive him at the Railway Station in Chettinad. We were just then married. We were standing in the Railway Station for almost an hour. All the while, he was performing puja after puja in his saloon car. (The Mysore Maharajas those days had their own private saloon cars that was attached to the bogies of the train).
My father was the President of the Lawn Tennis Association; he was also involved in sports like racing and cricket and he continued as the President of the BCCI and as its Treasurer for many years. Those days the Board did not have much money. Maharaja of Baroda Fateh Singh Rao Gaekwad and my father would spend a lot of their own money for the promotion of the game. He was a very principled person, no hanky-panky in him. That is how I got involved in sports like cricket, tennis, polo and horse-riding.
SOM: Are you the only child?
A.C. Muthiah: No, I have a sister.
SOM: Were you spoilt because you were the only son?
A.C. Muthiah: No, he was very strict with me (laughs), very strict. He just gave me whatever I needed, for sports, schooling so on and so forth. He was good and a humble person.
SOM: The story of SPIC (Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation Ltd.) is very interesting. Your father started it after you showed interest. As family businesses go, what are the challenges you faced?
A.C. Muthiah: As I told you, my father was the one who ventured into industry, unlike his brothers. One brother Raja Muthiah was mainly into finance, after that with great persuasion from R. Venkataraman (former President of India) he started a cement factory. My father ventured into so many industries; mainly scooter, sugar factory.
Only after I came back from the US after completing my studies we got into fertiliser manufacturing. Our plant at that time was one of the world’s largest ammonia urea fertiliser units.
SOM: Cricket is a religion in our country. Your father and a few of his generation like M. Chinnaswamy and S. Sriraman were responsible for the growth of cricket. How much was changed by the time you took over as BCCI President in 1999?
A.C. Muthiah: Yes, M. Chinnaswamy in whose name the Bengaluru Cricket Stadium is named, was a very good friend of my father. There was not much of a change when I took over. But what had happened was gambling had started infiltrating into the game. I took strong exceptions. I don’t know whether you remember, I sacked Mohammad Azharuddin, who captained the Indian Cricket team, much against the wishes of the government.
The government said you cannot do it, and there was one more player Ajay Jadeja, son-in-law of Jaya Jaitley. It was Uma Bharti, who was the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, and she said, ‘Please stop taking any action.’ I told her I have not heard you. I am going to take this action. So that is when I put Azharuddin and Jadeja down. That changed a little bit. For some time it worked.
After my term ended, IPL came. That changed the complete face of the game. It became commercial and so much of money is involved now. It is no longer the old standard game of cricket.
I remember Tiger Pataudi, a good friend of mine, who used to tell me, ‘But for MAC and Fateh Singh Gaekwad, we would have all been travelling only in third class trains from one centre to another.’ It was these two people who financed them from their personal funds and made them travel by first class.