The opposition parties are up in arms over the growing menace of crony-capitalism (suit-boot-ki-sarkar), and the ruling dispensation is offering an equally cavalier defence of the industrialists.
While both perceptions are partially true, they also betray the grim realities, complexities and complicities that muddy the intricate reality and relegate the essential discourse only to political barbs.
Like all accusations in the public domain, the truth is somewhere in between. The need to stimulate the ‘market’ forces cannot be discounted. This has to be tempered with recent instances of greed, avarice and shameful conduct of some of the noted industrial magnates.
The recent cases of diamantaires on-the-run, a flamboyant liquor baron fighting the system to avoid prosecution, or a para-banking giant publiclly professing a counter-narrative to his legal indictments is symptomatic of the moral degradation of the economically-privileged.
While world markets were sparkling with India’s homegrown luxury-jewellery brand, a bevy of international celebrities were sashaying on the red carpet with their wares and trinkets, an almost silent Rs11,000-crore fraud was brewing and then exploding in the lending banks.
When the inevitable truth unfolded, the diamantaire who had famously said that he didn’t believe in ‘Plan B’s’, bolted out of India just in time and has since lived abroad, incognito ~ unrepentant, obdurate and unconcerned about the trail of destruction that his personal ambition has brought upon the financial system that sustains the average man on the street.
Incredulously a letter written by the defaulter to the bank states, “Your actions have destroyed my brand and the business and have now restricted your ability to recover all the dues leaving a trail of unpaid debts”.
His uncle and co-accused in another case of fraud-and-flee, went one-up in unbelievable logic for avoiding fair trial in India, ostensibly because of the ‘trend of mob lynching’! True to their transactional nature, this tainted individual brazenly disowned the law of the land and instead took alternate citizenship in far flung, Antigua.
However, the political class engages in a game of mutual blame for their respective complicities that were either ‘Pre-2014’ or ‘Post-2014’.
Another ‘King of Good Times’, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha twice ~ once supported by the current ruling party and then by the principal Opposition party ~ had scripted a similar shoot-and-scoot.
The background to this fiasco had the familiar elements of right-posturing. He sponsored and suffixed a Formula-1 team with the sovereign name. Earlier, this tycoon had bought the sword of the legendary ruler, Tipu Sultan, at a public auction, a few days prior to the elections in Karnataka, from where coincidentally he was contesting.
He had described the same as a ‘unique piece of history’, and ascribed the purchase to restoring its ‘rightful legacy’ as ‘a proud Kannadiga’. Much later the son-of-the-soil’s pride was conveniently forgotten and the one-time-owner casually explained its disappearance to ‘I gave it away in 2016 as my family said it was bringing me bad luck’.
The eerily familiar pattern was of financial muscle being able to buy ‘moral’, emotive and ‘nationalistic’ portents, along with political gratification. Similarly, the team jersey of the Indian cricket team was till a few years back sponsored by an industrial group that was mired in multiple legal wrangles. Liberal money-power had the ability to appropriate national symbols and project the virtues of nationalism.
However such transactional acts of nationalism have never deterred these poster-boys of instant success from making a mockery of the Indian system, when it rightfully turned against them. Under the cover of foreign lands these tycoons have described the government’s effort to summon them as deliberate ‘witch-hunts’.
The imperious demand and the loaded assumptions inherent in the absence of ‘natural light’ and ‘fresh air’ in the Indian prisons, led one of the tycoon’s counsel in Britain to ask for a ‘step-by-step video’ of the Indian prison conditions should the Indian government succeed in getting him extradited.
Such a move makes a travesty of the nation, its government and the common man on the street, who witnesses the optics of privilege at its worst.
Even as Parliament braces to pass the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, that can declare the industrialist an economic offender and lead to attachment of assets and initiation of proceedings, the defiance and impudence remains intact.
Yet another industrialist-turned-cricket administrator moved to London, after the Enforcement Director (ED) had started turning the screws. He is now safely settled abroad.
The era of conscientious and respected industrialists like the Tatas, Birlas and Bajaj met its eclipse long ago. Today’s indistrialists are not feted as the flagbearers of Indian enterprise.
The days when the entrepreneurial spirit was dovetailed into the larger national interest are over. The ambience has been vitiated by the actions of these rash and impetuous businessmen, who live by the wire and care two hoots about the collateral damage that their rashness leaves behind.
The government, political classes and the banking sector need to safeguard itself and the nation against celebrating and championing the instant success of some of these maverick industrialists, whose rise to fame can be attributed to reasons beyond sound business logic.
Their operations are usually rooted in calculated arrangements of both political and institutional patronage. The financial and moral bankruptcy of the Enron enterprise was supposedly predicated on its ironic commitment to four ‘inviolable values’ ~ respect, integrity, communication and excellence.
Smooth talk on morality and nationalism, while hiding their own ruthless ambition, is the praxis of many of these fly-by-night operators who have burned precious resources and aspirations in their quest for self-centred financial greed.
Certainly not all industrialists can be clubbed in this category; the nation needs to harness the innate entrepreneurial genius of India, however much ‘inclusive growth’ remains a consummation devoutly wished for… beyond the opacity of the celebrated tag ~ the ‘fastest growing large economy ‘.
The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry.