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Home > India > Business > Columnists > Guest Column > Sunanda K Datta-Ray

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Once he's out, society will embrace Raju

January 17, 2009

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The Satyam fiasco: Complete coverage

Raju need not fear ostracism once he's out - society will embrace him.

A friend in Washington told me that Indians working in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund began to swagger around with a new bounce to the step and a gleam in the eye when the Rs 64-crore (Rs 640-million) Bofors scandal broke.

'We are in the big league now' they gloated. 'Not your chota-mota stuff!' The Rs 7,136-crore (Rs 71.36 billion) Satyam [Get Quote] fraud must have them bursting with pride.

Size is a national obsession. Indians have stashed away more than anyone else -- a noble $1,456 billion -- in Swiss banks. We thrive on superlatives. Even Jawaharlal Nehru rejoiced in the Suratgarh farm being "the biggest farm in Asia".

A policeman claimed during the nineties' spate of kidnappings in Calcutta he could identify the kidnappers from the ransom demanded.

A crore (Rs 10 million) meant impressive Delhi criminals; a few lakhs suggested dehati gangs in Bihar; a measly thousand or two indicated local street-corner toughs. "Boys who extort Durga Puja chanda" he said contemptuously.

A double-column newspaper heading reflected another aspect of the complex.

'Grandpa Dawood celebrates in Pak' reported with no hint of criticism that 'champagne corks popped' and 'hundreds of kilos of pedas' were distributed in Karachi, Dubai and Mumbai to celebrate the birth of India's most wanted fugitive's grandson.

I shouldn't imagine any Mumbaiker refused either the bubbly or sweets. For that matter, Delhi and Mumbai society hostesses would probably scratch out each other's eyes for the honour of lionising Ibrahim Dawood at their parties if he ever appears in India.

Similarly, the poor might flock to gaze on Charles Sobhraj; the rich will fall over each other to shake his hand. As someone said of Britain's royal family, our heroes are famous for being famous.

Fame is the spur, never mind for what, bearing out Wilde's aphorism that 'the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about'.

The frequency with which the phrase 'world famous' is used implies we live not for ourselves but for the world. Even in remote towns Indians frankly confess to absurd doings like eating dahi while turning somersaults in the air to make the hallowed Guinness Book of Records.

A R Rahman put it nicely when he said, "Indians are crazy about Oscars". Slumdog Millionaire would be far more enjoyable if the Oscar judges enjoy it.

Indira Gandhi was uncharacteristically out of tune with this mood when she wanted tax evaders to be ostracised. She must have known that people admire and envy a leading member of a prominent industrial family who pays no tax.

Sir Biren Mookerjee was thought to be inept when the tax people threatened to seize some of the grounds of his Calcutta mansion.

Mrs Gandhi wasn't the only premier with a blind spot. V P Singh's prescription to force corrupt Indians to migrate showed he had no idea that half the population would happily call itself corrupt to escape foreign exchange and travel restrictions.

'India's Enron' has done India proud. It doesn't lead the fraud pecking order with WorldCom (Rs 43,650 crore or Rs 436.5 billion) or Xerox (Rs 29,100 crore or Rs 291 billion) but the real Enron lags behind with only Rs 2,866 crore (Rs 28.66 billion) missing.

Our Byrraju Ramalinga Raju has also beaten the flamboyant daredevil of the derivatives who gambled away the world's oldest merchant bank. Nick Leeson's fun and games cost Rs 346 crore (Rs 3.46 billion) less than Raju's creative accounting.

The pujas and representations by his friends confirm Raju need fear neither ostracism nor forced emigration once he's out. Society will clasp him to its bosom.

Reports say he chatted 'for several hours' with fellow Andhra jailmate, Kosaraju Venkateshwara Rao, former chairman of Hyderabad's Krushi Bank, who allegedly duped depositors of nearly Rs 32 crore (Rs 320 million) and fled to Bangkok.

What did they talk about? Raju may have said that Rs 32 crore was peanuts. "Even Global Trust went under for Rs 812 crore (Rs 8.12 billion)!" Also, that 8,300 Krushi depositors were nothing to write home about since Satyam's 53,000 employees and their dependents probably account for 424,000 jobs.

Rao wondered why Raju, with offices from Toronto to Calgary and Parsippany in New Jersey to Santa Clara in California, hadn't run, like three Satyam colleagues.

'The government runs faster' Raju replied. Bangkok is a hop, step and jump away, but India established diplomatic relations with Costa Rica and sent an ambassador to get Dharma Teja.

Foreign isn't safe. Look at poor Akshay Vishal in America! "Besides, how will anyone know one has refused VIP treatment (even if it wasn't offered), turned spiritual and reads Buddhist books if the Indian media doesn't have access?


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