India's Answer to Madoff
Lay not thy treasure upon the earth,
Most corporates, of course, do both things—swindle the earth as well as invest in religion. And they take care to bribe the auditors in both places.
Especially in India, where Hindus actually worship wealth as a goddess called Laxmi, and where the acquiring of vaibhav (worldly stature, replete with wherewithal) is an endorsed spiritual goal.
Like religious institutions of the top order the world-over, the Vatican for one, some of India’s temple trusts are among the richest corporates going, and the classes and the masses have an appropriately unequal access to their sanctum sanctorums. And those that are out of caste have none, even as many gods that are installed within have not even a human face.
And the priests have ordained that, as among the corporates, there is a pecking order not just among the ruling elites but among the gods and goddesses as well.
You can hardly be any considerable god or goddess if the gold over your temple roof is pasty and thin, and if corporate big-wigs or their political mentors never visit you.
The state shall decree no holiday or festivity in your name.
Over the last two decades, following the opening up of the Indian economy per diktat of the Washington Consensus, Indian corporate strides, especially in such things as Information Technology, have been the story to follow, don’t we know.
The “breaking news” now is that the global machismo of India’s corporates has indeed arrived at those pinnacles of fraud without which no corporate prowess may be taken seriously, much like the street-corner temple that only the neighbourhood urchins frequent.
The Satyam corporate (the name means “Truth”, would you believe it?) has raised India to the level of a Madoff.
Its founder-CEO, who we are told, had begun his Icarian flight from the humblest of beginnings, has confessed to having systematically fudged the accounts of the company, to the tune of some 7000 crore rupees ($70 billion ?)!
The books have been manipulated to show inflated holdings and profits and reduced debits inorder to draw a market valuation wholly incommensurate with its factual standing. All calculated to induce investments that are now not worth the paper they were written on. Some 53000 very hi-tech personnel may soon be fending for themselves.
If you are a sucker still, you are free to think that nobody but the CEO had an inkling. But do consider that the auditors of Satyam have been the one and only Price Waterhouse firm—same that audited Enron. Those are not the types who ever pay for their “efficiency.” No state is above them. They simply gather their gains and take off, where other meat awaits them.
Big swindlers require comparably big auditors as well, no?
Just as they also require clout among the political class and other scions of the establishment.
No surprise, therefore, that the firm and its CEO had been paraded by an erstwhile chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh where the firm is located to the then President Clinton on his India visit as an icon of “shining India.”
And no surprise that the same CEO seems to have received a happy helping hand in land deals of a massive dimension favouring his family by those that govern the state now.
Or that the police could not lay hands on him for three whole days after he made his canny confession—canny, we say, because it turns out that he might have been at risk of losing the firm entirely to other predators if he hadn’t done so in time.
Thus it is that India has truly “arrived”; nobody now may say that our share in globalization is of a low order of chicanery, after all.
Some two years ago, the CNN-Ibn news TV channel in Delhi did a series of programmes based on sting operations that exposed the money-laundering shenanigans of some top-level sadhus and sants, many associated with the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad).
India’s corporate channels have, of course, always had this love-hate equation with organized Hindutva, seeking its perpetuation inorder to thwart secular, class-based consolidations among the masses, but wary of its potential to derail the operations of capitalism per se by causing inter-community mayhem and disruption of productive activity.
Be that as it may, I remember at the time (precisely on 15th of February, 2006) writing an email to the CNN-Ibn CEO, Rajdeep Sardesai, asking “when will your lenseye penetrate some corporate board-room as well?”
And receiving a chuckle from him, which read “Desperate to do a corporate ‘hit’” (16th feb., 2006)
You see, it is silly to think that the corporates indulge in corruption; such was the meaning I read into the chuckle.
Corporate media channels, in India at the least, routinely bash the politician as being at the heart of India’s degradations. They are the only ones, for example, who have spawned a culture of dynastic rule, never the corporates! And, remember, corporate inheritors don’t fight any elections either.
Sometimes, very occasionally, the bureaucrats may come in for a swing or two, not for their corruption, mind you, but for the old-world obstacles they often raise to the speedy operations of capitalism. Nehruvian habits of mind, these are dubbed.
Indeed the main business of India’s democracy is seen to comprise facilitating the so-endless efficiency, the unremitting merit, and the global sheen of the corporate sector.
And now Satyam happens, and wretchedly the cry goes up that this may just be the tip of the iceberg, even as other corporates cry hoarse that one bad fish does not pollute the ocean.
The very same who have had no difficulty in shouting world-wide “Islamo-fascism” at any single occurrence of “terrorism.”
And, like it or not, India’s corporate media channels are having to take notice of the Satyam scandal. Interesting in the coming days to see what treatment the story receives as the days go by.
And, equally interestingly, corporate conglomerate bosses can be heard on TV to be recommending “regulations” that were anathema to them until a minute ago. As it is now recognized that elected governments do, after all, have the all-important role to ensure that the baby is not thrown with the bath-water, namely, that the strides that Capital has been making are not reversed.
Indeed, all the way from the Lehman collapse upto Satyam, another form of globalization seems afloat—one that screams “regulation,” and rather insidiously means to hold the governments responsible for corporate shenanigans rather than Capitalism itself.
The whole point of this new slogan of globalization is to ensure that the world does not, god forbid, begin seriously to consider alternatives that stink of socialist prejudices.
It has been seen in contemporary India that whenever some notable celebrity is in trouble—facing a jail sentence, or some such—he invariably takes a posse to one or other of the favoured big temples to ask for a manat (boon), which is religiously paid back once the gods have successfully bestowed their favour.
We have nary a doubt that the minute Ramlingam Raju, the troubled Satyam CEO, and his dear brother are out on bail, the first visit they will make will be to Tirupati Devosthanam.
Celebrity CEOs and celebrity gods, after all, do belong together.
India’s first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, had small love for either, and when a scandal did happen (the Mundhra scam), the straightforward result that the then heavy-weight finance minister, T.T.Krishnamachari lost his job.
But then Nehru was, if not a socialist, at least a Fabian/Democratic socialist.