MUMBAI, July 7: Dhirubhai Ambani, who rose from humble beginnings to become the billionaire founder of India’s largest business empire, died on Saturday night, 12 days after suffering a second stroke.

Ambani, who established Reliance Industries, a group with a market value of nine billion dollars, died in the intensive care unit of Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital.

He was rushed there on June 24 after suffering his second stroke in 16 years. A stroke in 1986 left the barrel-chested, plain-speaking Ambani partially paralysed.

Ambani ranked 138th on the latest Forbes magazine list of the ultra-rich with a fortune of 2.9 billion dollars.

India’s great and powerful — politicians, industrialists, business leaders and Bollywood idols — had flocked to the hospital over the past two weeks upon hearing he was in a critical condition.

The news also caused Reliance group share prices to slide in what analysts described as a knee-jerk response to concern over prospects for the industrial empire he had built from scratch. Ambani was born in 1932, the third of five children of a poor school teacher in a rural Indian village.

At 17 he left home to join his eldest brother in Yemen, where he worked as a petrol station attendant, and later a clerk for a local affiliate of Burmah Shell, all the while dreaming — according to the legend — of one day owning an oil company.

He achieved that and more.

Ambani created an industrial empire which includes Reliance Petroleum, which operates the fifth-largest refinery in the world, and Reliance Industries, a huge synthetic fibre and petrochemical maker. The two companies are merging, creating one of the world’s 30 largest energy companies.

But Reliance’s remarkable growth also prompted accusations that Ambani’s success owed as much to manipulation of government policy as to shrewd business decisions.

Ambani attributed those attacks to his lowly beginnings.

“Controversy is the price to be paid for success,” he told one interviewer. “You must understand human psychology. Because, not so long ago, I was just a riff-raff boy and people would say: ‘Who is this Dhirubhai? He was merely a hawker who used to wait outside my office.’

“This is the truth and I am not ashamed of that. My skin, fortunately, is very thick! However, the fact remains that when an elephant walks, dogs tend to bark.” —Reuters

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