New Delhi, Feb. 23 -- The latest annual report of the Life Insurance Corporation lists the names and designations of its key officials over 10 pages. But when it comes to giving details of companies in which it holds shares worth about Rs.470,000 crore, India's largest life insurer is reluctant to share information. Even to its millions of policyholders, LIC's equity portfolio-bigger than that of any mutual fund in India-is largely an unknown.

Contradictions run rife through the 66-year-old LIC, which is looking to make India's biggest share listing. LIC seeks a premium for size but discounts transparency. LIC exists to service policyholders but occasionally channels their savings for purposes that yield sub-optimal returns while servici...