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Religare: delusional dreamers or achievable ambitions?

India’s Religare wants to be a global emerging markets powerhouse. It remains a long way from that goal.

Religare Enterprises isn’t quite sure what it is, or what it wants to become. It has flipped and flopped during its short life, shifting course and strategy in search of cohesion and long-term profit. So far, both remain elusive.

That’s not for want of trying. In 2008 the Indian brothers Malvinder and Shivinder Singh cashed in their chips at pharmaceuticals giant Ranbaxy Laboratories, selling out to Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo for $8 billion. Casting around for a new venture, they opted for two unusual bedfellows: healthcare and financial services.

And so the Singhs built up two new firms, Fortis Healthcare and Religare Enterprises: the former building and buying upscale hospitals in India and Singapore; the latter venturing into everything from wealth management to investment banking.

No guessing which direction has provided the most profit. Fortis posted earnings of Rs1.25 billion ($24 million) in the year to March 31 2011, while Religare lost Rs3 billion.

Yet Religare’s story is complex – more than a simple case of successful businessmen groping blindly around an unfamiliar industry.

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