Disputes among family members of clan-controlled business conglomerates in India are nothing new. Usually, the differences surface after the founding patriarch passes away, and involve matters of control as well as ownership. The reported rift between Mukesh and Anil Ambani - the brothers at the helm of Reliance, India's biggest private business group - follows the same pattern. But the sheer size of the conglomerate has roiled India's markets and could lead to the dismemberment of an Indian behemoth, according to some analysts. 'My experience is that most family businesses undergo self- division, and this has been going on for a while,' investment adviser PN Vijay recently told CNBC-TV18 in Mumbai. 'All of them work out somehow, and often the shareholders benefit. I would not rule out a monolith like Reliance being split, but that's not bad news for investors so long as it's done nicely, with the help of lawyers and investment bankers,' he added. Sometimes, family disputes over corporate ownership end up in the courts, as it did with the Modi group - a leading industrial house in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, founded in the early 1930s. In prolonged disputes, the ones who suffer the most are the shareholders and lending institutions, as their investments - whose values dwindle as the share price plunges - are effectively frozen until a court has made a ruling. Occasionally, as with the Bajaj industrial group, better sense prevails with the help of an arbitrator. Usually, the resolution involves one of the contending parties bowing out with a compensation based on the valuation of his or her portion of the family's equity holding. Among Hindu families, the eldest son is supposed to take on the mantle of the deceased father. As a result, the younger siblings will exit, as happened with the Nanda brothers of the Delhi-based Escorts group, which makes motorbikes, tractors and industrial equipment. Sometimes, the corporate battle starts when the founder is still alive. For example, the founder of the BPL electronic group in Bangalore is squabbling with his son-in-law for control of the group's new mobile telecom venture. In the case of the Ambani brother, the two siblings together control the US$22.6 billion Reliance group, which was founded by their father, Dhirubhai Ambani. In January last year, newspaper columnist Sucheta Dalal noted that that Anil and his wife were absent at the launch of the group's new company, Reliance Infocom, the brainchild of Mukesh. Pundits conjectured that Anil was, at the time, not really gung-ho about the group's investment in the telecom services, as the group's core strength is petrochemicals. The Economic Times has also reported that Anil had written a letter to Mukesh on October 25 protesting the curtailment of his powers through a resolution at a board meeting of flagship RIL on July 27 this year. Anil's entry into politics is also reported to be a source of friction between the brothers. When he was alive, their father financed many influential politicians from various parties, but scrupulously avoided being identified with any one party. In any other Indian company, boardroom disputes might not make waves. But Reliance has annual revenues of US$22.6 billion, equivalent to 3.5 per cent of India's gross domestic product. It accounts for 10 per cent of the country's indirect tax and 6 per cent of its exports and it employs more than 80,000 people. Reliance Group's flagship company, RIL, is strategically important: it operates India's biggest oil refinery in Gujarat state, which borders Pakistan. 'The Reliance saga is getting more sordid. That is bad news for not only the Reliance counters but also the whole market,' said Jagdish Malkani, a member of the National Stock Exchange. 'So far, the FIIs [foreign institutional investors, which hold about 23 per cent RIL's stock] have held resolute and resilient, and are in fact buying at lower levels. But if the Reliance issue turns nastier, then there is trouble ahead,' he added. Matters may indeed make a turn for the worst. It has been reported that Dhirubhai Ambani, who died in July 2002, did not leave a will. Under the Hindu law of succession, his personal property should be distributed equally among his immediate heirs - his wife, two sons Mukesh and Anil, and two married daughters. So instead of a neat split into two, Reliance may end up dismembered into five degrees of separation.