Ramkrishna Dalmia (7 April 1893 – 26 September 1978) was a pioneer industrialist and founder of the Dalmia-Jain group or Dalmia Group and The Times Group. The name is variously written as Ram Krishan Dalmia and Ram Kishan Dalmia.
Ramkrishna Dalmia was born 7 April 1893 in the small village of Chirawa in Rajasthan. He belonged to a family of vaishnava devotee. He shifted to Calcutta with his parents at an early age where he learned Bengali.
When Dalmia was only about 18 years of age, his father died leaving no property. After this, the entire burden of supporting his mother, grandmother, his wife and younger brother Jaidayal fell on him. His maternal uncle, Motilal Jhunjhunwala gave him a job in his bullion business which enabled him to earn just enough to support his whole family. Later he earned himself handsome amount of money by speculation in bullion.
Career as businessman
During the time when he was staying in Dinapore, he mooted the idea of establishing a sugar factory at Bihar in Patna District. This was done under the joint management of himself and Nirmal Kumar Jain of Arrah, a well-known local Zamindar. Simultaneously he set up another sugar factory at Dehri (Dehri-on-Sone), Bihar. This place became known as Dalmianagar.
His greatest contribution was in the emergence of the Indian Cement Industry. He entered this field in the year 1936 as a challenge to the monopoly of existing firms, mainly the powerful combine of Associated Cement Company, which had till then been in complete control of the industry. Facing stiff competition from them, he set up several cement factories at different places like Dalmianagar in Bihar, Karachi in Pakistan, Dalmia Dadri in Haryana, Dandot in Punjab, Dalmiapuram in Tamil Nadu and Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan.
He went on to set up several industries like Cement, Paper, Banks, Insurance Companies, Biscuits, Aviation Companies, Railways, Collieries, Publishing and Newspapers, Textiles, Chemicals, etc. with the assistance of his lieutenants, his younger brother Jaidayal Dalmia and his son-in-law, Sahu Shanti Prasad Jain.
Later, he established the Bharat Bank with branches at many places in India. He also entered in the Aviation Business and acquired disposal goods after the Second World War. He acquired interests in the Bharat Insurance Co. Ltd. and established a Fire and General Insurance Company. He later acquired controlling interests in the Punjab National Bank and also in the Times of India publications.
Division of the business empire
At the time of India’s independence, Dalmia was among the wealthiest and most powerful men in India and maintained good relations with most political leaders, including Muhammad Ali Jinnah who sold his Delhi house to Ramkrishna Dalmia. At one point his name is said to have been considered for India’s finance minister
Shortly before independence, the Dalmia empire was divided between himself, Jaidayal Dalmia, and son-in-law Shanti Prasad Jain, who had once been a tutor to his daughter Rama. Later, when he was facing imprisonment and needed to repay 2.5 crores (25 million) rupees, he mortgaged Bennett, Coleman to Shanti Prasad Jain to raise monies.
Controversy, inquiry and jail
In 1947, Dalmia engineered the acquisition of the media giant Bennett, Coleman by transferring monies from a bank and an insurance company of which he was the Chairman. In 1955, this came to the attention of the socialist parliamentarian Feroze Gandhi who was part of the ruling Congress party headed by his estranged father-in-law Jawaharlal Nehru. In December 1955, he raised the matter in Parliament, documenting extensively the various fund transfers and intermediaries through which the acquisition had been financed. The case was investigated by the Vivian Bose Commission of Inquiry.
In the court case that followed, where he was represented by the leading British attorney Sir Dingle Mackintosh Foot, he was sentenced to two years in Tihar Jail. But for most of the jail term he managed to spend in hospital. Upon his release his son-in-law Sahu Shanti Prasad Jain to whom he had entrusted running of Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. rebuffed his efforts to resume command of the company.
Dalmia formed the Anti-Cow Slaughter League. He vowed that he would not eat cereals (anna dana, that is rice or wheat) until cow slaughter was banned in India. He maintained this vow until his death and never ate rice or wheat after the day he took the vow. In 1948, shortly after India gained its independence, Dalmia mooted the notion of "One-World Government," a utopian, impractical idea which received some attention in the press during that era of idealism. He was also author of three self-published pamphlets, namely ‘A Guide To Bliss’, ‘Fearlessness’ and ‘Faith in Divine Law,' which were intended to give guidance to readers on how to improve their life with hard work, prayer and faith in God.
Dalmia married six times and was the father of eighteen children. He lost his first wife, Narbada Devi, at the age of only sixteen. Two years later, he was married to Durga Devi. Both of these marriages were arranged by Dalmia's mother and senior family members in the usual Indian manner. These were ladies hailing from decent families of his own caste and similar background, who married him during the early period of his life when he was an impoverished, fatherless young trying to make ends meet and support his mother and younger brother. They did not even dream that he would become so wealthy one day; they married him because their parents arranged for them to be married to him. They were received with due ceremony into the family by Dalmia's mother and other family members. Durga Devi (his surviving traditional wife) was of traditional bent and maintained a pious, conventional household. She held sway over the ancestral household and the circle of relatives; she presided over religious rituals and customary traditions on all occasions as long as she was alive.
Dalmia sought a more exciting, stimulating lifestyle, and once he became wealthy, he was able to indulge himself. His later four wives, namely Pritam, Saraswati, Dinesh Nandini and Asha, were chosen by Dalmia himself and maintained by him in separate houses, away from his ancestral home; he strictly laid down the rule that there be no social contact between his various wives and children. Dalmia's later wives were relatively 'modern' and better educated by the standards of the time, and their 'forward' nature is what apparently attracted Dalmia to them.
There was much resistance from Dalmia's mother, wife (Durga Devi) and other family members when he revealed that he was in love with a woman named Pritam and intended to marry her. Despite the outrage and opposition, Dalmia did indeed take Pritam as his third wife, and since it was clearly impossible for her to live in the same house with his mother and wife, Pritam was provided with a separate establishment. However, the love between them was soon dissipated, since Pritam was an educated, modern woman of willful temperament. The couple were soon estranged, although they did not get divorced until much later, because divorce is forbidden in Hinduism and is an extremely powerful taboo in Indian society. Estranged from Pritam and with no face to show to Durga Devi, Dalmia then grew interested in another woman named Saraswati. His family saw no point in making an issue of this, as long as this new woman was also kept away from the family home. By nature, Saraswati was a traditional and dutiful Indian wife, very much like Durga Devi, but she was not of similar family background, which was a problem in those days. She became his mainstay, accepting his two later wives (Dinesh Nandini and Asha) with understanding and good grace, and being always devoted to her husband's care and welfare. Saraswati became the mother of seven od Dalmia's children, and he lived mainly with Saraswati in later life. He also took two more wives after Saraswati (six in all) and begat eighteen children. He was eventually divorced from his third wife Pritam, and died in the care of his fourth wife Saraswati, who was his support and mainstay in old age.
Dalmia died on the 26th of September 1978 at the age of 85 after a prolonged illness.
- Some notes and reminiscences, Dalmia, Ramkrishna, 1948, 1959, p. 8-20
- THE TOI STORY: How A Newspaper Changed The Rules Of The Games, Sangita P. Menon Malhan, HarperCollins Publishers India, 2013 p. 1947
- Opposites attract, Vidya Nidhi Dalmia, Hindustan Times, Nov 14, 2007
- Auletta. Page 55.
- The Curse of too-many Sons, Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, NOV 9TH, 1997, Times of India
- Auletta, Ken: “Citizens Jain - Why India's Newspaper Industry is Thriving“. The New Yorker, Oct 8 2012, Pages 52 to 61.