What Bad Boy Billionaire Conveniently Leaves Out From its Narrative

Asmita Karanje

The political angle — the root cause of all problems on earth

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You know it when you see it.

The nexus between the corporates, the government, and the politicians has only exponentially grown in the last decade.

Thanks to increased polarization, this ‘scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours’ attitude has become rather prevalent.

The latest Netflix docu-series ‘Big Boy Billionaires’ shows the rise and fall of the three wealthiest business tycoons in India. The story-telling, the narrative, and the portrayal of their actual lives are spot on. It leaves you wanting more.

It rather surprised me to find that there is another episode featuring Mr. Ramlingan Raju — the man behind the uber-famous 2G scam — the scam that marked the downfall of the Congress party in India.

While the docu-series aptly depicts the arduous journeys of these billionaires, it subtly leaves out the most important part of the jigsaw puzzle — the involvement of the politicians and government in power that enabled them to escape — all too important pieces to miss out.

Let’s dive into it.

Nirav Modi

While the scam came to light in Feb 2018, the government had known about it at least eight months prior.mi

The Income-tax department had discovered his fraud in Mar 2017 and also illustrated the extent of his deception in its report to the government.

As per their investigations — he had created shell companies, inflated his assets, and showed bogus transactions on his balance sheet — everything that later became public knowledge was reported by the bureaucrats

Interestingly, these red flags were never shared with other enforcement agencies — the reason you may ask — because the protocol of sharing information didn’t exist then. But the income tax department is not an independent body. It is reportable to the Central Board of Direct Taxes that falls under the purview of the central government.

It’s only when the banker in Punjab National Bank retired that the scam broke out. It also a tad bit surprising how the bank discovered the crooked lending practices brewing under its nose only when the shit hit the ceiling.

Not only did the bank indulge in fraudulent lending practices, but it also tipped off Modi when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) started investigating the case. The diamantaire had been planning his exit since Dec 2016, however, demonetization stalled his plans.

Fast forward one year and while his plan to leave the country still remains the reasons have now changed —he needs to escape the authorities before being caught. He was fleeing and no longer flying. He swiftly acted on his plan in the first week of Jan 2017 before the CBI could officially begin its investigations. Or maybe it was all planned in connivance with CBI.

A businessman who was apparently cheated by Modi wrote several letters to different enforcement agencies including the PMO in 2015. But the government chose to ignore it.

The government knew it all along; it chose to play deaf (also dumb.)

To top it CBI registered the case only a month after he had left the country. And only a few days after he met Narendra Modi at the Davos summit.

Vijay Mallya

He was twice the elected member of the Rajya Sabha — once in 2002 on a Congress — Janata Dal ticket and then again in 2010 on a BJP — Janata Dal ticket.

Being in politics, he took full advantage of his position. He held a diplomatic passport. It made exiting the country rather easy. After being tipped off that the banks have asked for a restraining order against himself, the liquor baron had left the country in March 2016.

While the restraining order was yet to arrive, the CBI had issued a lookout notice for him back in Nov 2015. A lookout notice, however, doesn’t allow the officials to detain him. And he frequently flew out of the country for official purposes. So it wouldn’t be completely fair to blame the bureau of immigration.

The notice only required the immigration authorities to inform the CBI. But who’s the real culprit in that case. Once he fled the country, the blame-game started. The banks were angry that the supreme court took a long time to issue a restraining order against him. The CBI was infuriated at the banks that they didn’t file an FIR report against him and had to file the case suo motto. The public was angry and rightfully so, as the system had failed in controlling a fugitive escape the country.

In a classic way, no one wants to take accountability or address those issues. And fraudsters like Mallaya continue to take advantage of the loopholes in the system.

Subroto Roy

My friends say it’s the best episode in the series. And I agree with them. It is — the worse the central character of your story, the better is the narrative.

Again the political angle has been cleverly left out from the narrative. But it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to spot the similarities between the tactics deployed by Sahara & that by ‘BJP-RSS’- use of hard-core nationalism to emotionally manipulate masses. The common Indian man is a patriot at heart & his patriotism is being used to misguide them from the main issue.

Immediately after getting out on bail, he organized a dinner that was attended by several politicians, cricketers, and several influential personalities within the industry. While hosting dinner in itself isn’t a crime, using one’s political ties to escape the law is.

His political connections date back to the ’90s. He had not only funded the 1996 general elections but also openly supported Samajvadi Party candidate — Raj Babbar. Nearly 3000 employees of the Sahara group had campaigned for him.

He used his political reach to stay out of prison. Guess who was the legal counsel defending his case — It was Kapil Sibal — a well-known name in the Congress party.

As of date, Subroto Roy is still out on bail. He has still not paid a significant portion of his dues to the general public. What makes Roy the worse of the trio is that he stole from the poorest of the poor and is roaming free.

Our laws cannot penalize him but can put an innocent doctor behind the bar for no reason. It can also use draconian laws such as the National Securities Act or the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to shun any voice of dissent by activists, students, and protesters. But when it comes to the billionaires who scam there aren’t many laws to convict them. Even if we use the existing laws, the enforcement is so weak that they almost always manage to escape.

Law is different for rich people.

They consider themselves above law. We have seen it time and again — Salman Khan, Sheetal Mafatlal, Lalit Modi, and many more. As per an RTI inquiry, there are more than 50 businessmen who have wilfully defaulted on their loans in the last five years. The part where it gets ugly is that loans amounting to a total of USD 9.3 Bn have been written off while the poor farmer is harassed for not being able to pay a paltry sum of 135 USD.

These billionaires don’t just run away in the middle of the night. They can’t disappear without the support of the highest officials in the government.

The bigger question is why does the government support such criminals?

To answer that question, we need to understand the government in question.
Of the USD 9.3 Bn debt which has been written-off, it includes some of the famous brands like Rotomac, Patanjali, and Adani enterprises —businesses that fund the Modi government.

It is no secret that the government has a close relationship with many of these industrialists. They fund them through electoral bonds and in return the govt waves off their debts.

Together they make a dumb-fuckery out of the common masses.

While ‘Jan Dhan Yojana’ is what they showcase to win the popular vote, the actual schemes have been run for the wealthy. Mukesh Ambani — India’s richest man — doubled his wealth from $23 billion to $55 billionbetween 2014 and 2019. Mr. Ambani is not the only one who benefitted from the Modi Government. There are several businessmen who have flourished in his reign at the expense of the poor.

Let’s look at a few of them and how they have used their influence to bag deals (which they would not have been able to otherwise.) They have used unethical tactics, undermined competition, and simply been on the right side of the government to get a huge borrowing approved despite poor financial performance.

Mukesh Ambani

Mr. Ambani is the alter ego of Mr. Modi. While the prime minister may be the face behind the politics, the business tycoon is the brains that keep it going. Together they have become too powerful and dangerous for the democratic fabric of our country.

Unfortunately, competition is slowly dying and the little innovation that we had due to the start-up growth is getting eclipsed.

Reliance has cast its net into various industries — using its deep pockets and influences it has over the present government rather than a superior product or a service offering — Jio mart — its retail arm was swamped with complaints ranging from inferior quality to irregular delivery just two weeks after launch. This leaves the consumers at an immense disadvantage.

Back in 2016, when they launched Jio — the telecom arm, it was positioned as the low-cost telecom operator to make inroads into the highly competitive telecom market.

What is, however, lesser-known to the public is that these companies have to pay a price for connecting their users to other networks. Initially, this cost would be huge for any new entrant in the industry until they acquire more customers.

But not for Jio. Guess who came to its rescue?

Coincidentally, TRAI reduced the interconnection charges that the telcos need to pay only a month after Jio’s launch. While this hugely benefitted Jio in reducing their expenses and expanding their subscriber base, it was a major disadvantage to Vodafone-Idea and Airtel. I am only stating the facts — rest, you are smart to connect the dots.

Gautam Adani

Mr. Adani is another major beneficiary of the favors from the Modi Government.

When Modi came to power one of the first things he did was make several foreign trips. One such trip to Australia was intended in securing the coal mine project in Queensland.

No points for guessing who bagged this project — Yes, Adani enterprises.

Among several other irregularities with this deal, one that stands out is how the $15bn project was funded. It secured a $1bn loan in 2014 from State Bank of India (the same PSU which is used as a milking cow for providing cheap and easy loans to Modi’s friends) despite it being deeply leveraged already. In short, the Modi government served the project and the funding on a platter to Adani.

In less than a year, however, the liabilities of Adani enterprises had shot up to an extent that it became unsustainable and a third of its debt was not recoverable.

And this is far from being the only deal which was unjustly handed to them — there are over 15 such deals in the power, defense and logistics industry. There are also claims that Adani has diverted over 5000 crores through over-invoicing.

While the company’s debt is being written off by using tax-payers money, they have been able to transfer a significant portion of their profits to offshore tax havens.

Baba Ramdev

Alright, how can we not talk about the Baba billionaire when we talk about crony capitalism. He is recognized for developing a domestic brand named “Patanjali” — it’s a unique concoction of nationalism, spiritualism, and supernaturalism that is given to the patriotic, gullible, and god-fearing masses of this country.

Unlike the other billionaires, Baba is a self-made billionaire who rose to power in less than five years. From being just a Yoga guru to becoming an entrepreneur and one of the richest men in the country, Baba has shown us the way — unfortunately though, not by manufacturing high-quality products or developing breakthrough innovation. Just through sycophancy.

Why struggle to do all that when you can get everything you want by simply being friends with the government? Patanjali products made inroads into the parliament dining tables. It also found its place into the government-owned Kendriya Bhandars and army canteens. In the BJP-governed states, it was also pushed through the fair-price shops.

The owner of Patanjali — Acharya Balkrishna — is the 15th richest man in India with a total net worth of $5Bn.

While Mallya, Modi, and Roy might seem like the only bad boy billionaires they are far from being the only ones. For every billionaire who has successfully escaped the law, there are a hundred others currently in the making.

In the grand scheme of things, this trio does seem less criminal — their only crime perhaps, in their view, would be that it was discovered while the rest have managed to fool the system.

Or perhaps the system has favored them — as we saw in the case of Adani, Ambani, and Baba Ramdev. Gone are the times when corporates had to lobby the government to get their job done.

We live in the times where the government themselves pick their favorites and shower them with benefits in exchange for funding them in elections and keeping them in power.

There are several such crony capitalists who have benefitted in some form or the other — huge tax cuts, loan waivers, by-passing of sourcing protocols, undermining competition and anti-trust laws, and so on.

The poor get poorer and the rich get richer in Modi’s new India.

“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.”― Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Thinker, self-experimenter, and a newbie writer. I write about personal growth, socio-political issues, and career advice.

Dallas, TX
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