On a muggy July afternoon, 42-year-old Amina and her sister Maimoona, 50, waited in entrance of Muhyudheen Juma Masjid at Nattika in Kerala’s Thrissur district, clutching a sheaf of petitions. From Malappuram, they had been ready to satisfy their benefactor.
“I need cash to construct a home; my sister is hoping to get some assist to repay the debt she incurred from the marriage of her daughter. We have now heard Yusuffali helps individuals in misery,” says Amina, as they stand exterior the gates of the grand mosque constructed by the UAE-based businessman at his Nattika village.
Earlier this month, Musaliam Veettil Abdul Kader Yusuffali or M A Yusuffali made nationwide headlines when his UAE-based Lulu Group opened a mall in Lucknow. Ali, who drove across the newly inaugurated mall in a buggy with Yogi Adityanath, thanked the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister for the “blessings” and for guaranteeing a “peaceable atmosphere” within the state. With that, Ali, a seasoned businessman whose Lulu Group operates in over 20 international locations, throughout West Asia, South Asia, the US and Europe, and has an annual turnover of round $8 billion, had stepped into new territory — its Lucknow operation the primary for the group in a northern state.
The Lucknow mall, constructed with an funding of Rs 2,000 crore, is a part of a Rs 13,000-crore India enlargement plan introduced in 2018. After Kochi, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, and Thrissur, that is the group’s fifth mall in India. As of 2022, the Lulu Group has 235 shops, using 60,000 individuals, round half of them from Kerala. The group has additionally diversified into the hospitality, meals processing and actual property sectors.
However for these in Kerala, Yusuffali is greater than “the richest Malayali on the earth”, the retail king who holds his personal even when he’s with heads of countries. For a lot of in his house state, he’s their final resort, a certainty and an assurance when all else fails.
In June 2021, Ali paid blood cash 5 lakh UAE dirhams (round Rs 1 crore) to free Becks Krishnan, an expatriate from Kerala sentenced to dying within the UAE for a 2012 street accident that killed a Sudanese nationwide.
Final month, whereas Ali was addressing an occasion in Thiruvananthapuram organised by the Loka Kerala Sabha, an expat affiliation, a youth stood as much as plead with the businessman for assist in bringing house the physique of his father, who had died in Saudi Arabia. Ali suspended his deal with, spoke to his group in Saudi, and ensured that the physique reached Kerala inside three days.
In August 2019, when Thushar Vellappally, state president of the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, a BJP ally, was jailed within the UAE in a cheque-bouncing case, Ali deposited the bail quantity and acquired him launched.
There are these and lots of different accounts of Yusuffali — seemingly apocryphal, however tales that his benefactors vouch for.
At Nattika seashore, fisherman P V Raju too has an Ali story. “Six years in the past, I went to satisfy him to hunt help for an expert course that my daughter needed to pursue. When he acquired to know that I’ve no home of my very own, he instantly provided to assemble one for us. His group supervised the development… Final yr, once I went to ask him for my daughter’s marriage, Ali gave her a gold chain as a present,’’ says Raju, sitting in the home Ali constructed for him.
Ali’s journey from a household of merchants in Nattika village to changing into one of many wealthiest Indians took off in 1970 when he went to purse a diploma course in enterprise administration in Ahmedabad, the place his father M Ok Abdul Qader ran a enterprise. “Our household had 5 shops in Ahmedabad, together with a restaurant, a basic retailer, and a house home equipment outlet. Whereas finding out, Ali additionally dealt with administrative issues of the enterprise,’’ recollects Ali’s paternal uncle M Ok Muhammed, who lives in Nattika.
Quickly after, one other of his uncles, M Ok Abdulla, who ran a division retailer in Abu Dhabi (UAE), requested Ali to assist him out. Within the final week of December 1973, Ali boarded a ship from Mumbai to Dubai to hitch his uncle’s EMKE Retailer in Abu Dhabi.
He acquired off to a tough begin. The fledgling nation, solely two years into its formation, had erratic energy provide and Ali is understood to have slept on the terrace of the constructing the place he stayed, cooling the ground after dousing it with water. Regardless of the troubles and the temptation to return house, Ali held on.
On the EMKE Retailer, he took up loading and unloading of products and is understood to have gone across the Emirates in his car, hawking provisions. Working together with his uncle, Ali managed to make sure that the enterprise stored tempo with the UAE’s rising financial system and its calls for. The household began importing frozen meals merchandise from overseas and went on to arrange cold-store chains and meals processing items throughout the nation. A decade after touchdown within the UAE, Ali managed to transform the EMKE Group right into a key participant within the retail enterprise. Ali had by then additionally emerged because the face of the household enterprise.
Within the Nineties, even because the Gulf was caught up in a messy warfare and expatriates fled, Ali stayed again, and even pumped in additional funding, opening the primary grocery store beneath the Lulu model in Abu Dhabi. The phrase Lulu means pearl in Arabic and is usually used as a time period of endearment. Additionally, earlier than it found oil, the UAE was closely into pearl harvesting.
Ali’s determination to remain on received him the assist and patronage of the UAE authorities. 5 years later, in 2000, Lulu opened its first hypermarket in Dubai and shortly expanded its footprints throughout the Center East.
In 2020, ADQ, a holding firm owned by the Abu Dhabi authorities, invested
USD 1 billion in Lulu Worldwide Holdings for its enlargement into Egypt. Earlier, ADQ had invested USD 1 billion within the Lulu Group. The Lulu Group additionally attracted investments from different governments within the area, together with Saudi Arabia’s Public Funding Fund (PIF).
Again house in Kerala, the queues exterior his Nattika home grew longer, of youth hoping to seek out employment in Ali’s Gulf ventures. “Ali carried out recruitment camps at his home. Aspirants from all elements of Kerala would line up in entrance of his EMKE Mansion. Within the preliminary years, he was straight concerned within the course of. There was even a particular Nattika counter for individuals from the village,’’ says Ali’s childhood buddy Abdul Latheef, who lives in Nattika after a stint within the Gulf.
Over time, wage from the Lulu Group has turn out to be the only largest lifeline for individuals in Nattika. “Many homes within the area have multiple male member employed within the Lulu Group. Anybody keen to go overseas has a job in Lulu as per his qualification,” says Rasheed, who has been working with the group for 3 a long time.
Those that have watched Ali say he’s the quintessential businessman — a trait that has performed no small half in his development. His critics have usually accused him of being an opportunist, somebody who doesn’t let ideology and different scruples get in the way in which.
For lengthy, Ali has been the bridge between the rulers of the Center East and governments in India.“He has heat relations with rulers within the Emirates. He is likely one of the only a few who can stroll into the home of Abu Dhabi rulers with out permission,” says a supply accustomed to his fashion of functioning.
A household buddy says Ali has used his contacts with the royal household and the UAE elite to assist these again house or the expatriates in his adopted nation. When Kerala went via a devastating flood in 2018, Ali additionally mobilised assist for the state.
He acquired the UAE authorities’s clearance for a cremation floor for Hindus, and secured sanction for developing a church for members of the Jacobite sect. In 2004, in a uncommon gesture, the Jacobite Church within the UAE honoured him with the title ‘Commander’.
He’s additionally identified to take care of cordial equations with governments in India, regardless of the get together in energy.
“Every time there’s a regime change in New Delhi, he’s fast to attach with the who’s who of that get together,” says a supply.
Others level out how, throughout Narendra Modi’s third go to to the UAE in August 2019, Ali met the Indian Prime Minister and promised to make sure that fruit and veggies from Jammu and Kashmir are exported to the Gulf. He additionally provided to arrange a logistics centre and meals processing unit that may give jobs to round 800 Kashmiris. The provide got here as a aid for the federal government at a time when the Centre’s transfer to strip J&Ok of its particular standing had attracted worldwide consideration.
“That’s Yusuffali. All that he does is to additional his enterprise, and he’s not ashamed to confess it. Nothing is available in his manner when he desires to do enterprise in a selected area,” says an individual who has labored with Ali.
Provides an individual near his household, “He’s a dedicated Indian, somebody who strongly believes that in a democracy, leaders are those that are elected by the individuals and now we have to respect them. That’s why he has pals throughout the spectrum.”
However like on most different issues, his religion in democracy isn’t rigid. “Within the Gulf international locations, the absence of a democratic system is his largest benefit. He will get issues performed via the highest layer,” the supply says.
Even in his famously partisan house state of Kerala, Ali has made pals throughout the divide. “When the Congress-led UDF was in energy, (former CM) Oomen Chandy was his closest ally, now that the CPM-led LDF is ruling, he’s (CM) Pinarayi Vijayan’s trusted buddy. He shares good ties with Chief of Opposition V D Satheesan too,” says one other supply, declaring that the CPM’s P Rajeeve was on the forefront of an agitation towards the Lulu Group in Kochi however when he grew to become Industries Minister in Vijayan’s second time period, Ali had no hassle coping with him.
On his pragmatic strategy in direction of politics and politicians, Ali has usually says, “I’ve no politics. My coverage is to face with the democratically elected governments.’’
This was evident in the way in which the group dealt with the current controversy over the Lucknow Lulu mall — a viral video, purportedly exhibiting some Muslims providing namaz on the mall, had led to police motion. The administration then issued an uncommon assertion saying “over 80 per cent” of its employees had been Hindu.
Chatting with The Sunday Categorical, the mall’s Public Relations Supervisor, Sebtain Husain, stated “frequent individuals” don’t care about incidents just like the namaz row, and that its footfall has seen no fallout of the row. “The state authorities, police have been supportive… And locals are pleased with the direct and oblique employment we’re offering… The frequent individuals don’t care about Hindu and Muslim, however are joyful for his or her bread and butter. That additionally makes us joyful.”
The disaster might have blown over, nevertheless it was additionally an indication that because the group expands into newer frontiers, Ali’s hard-nosed pragmatism shall be put to check.