'I have the professional skill to suggest how to solve a problem'
In the second part of an exclusive interview to rediff.com's Shobha Warrier, S Gurumurthy talks about why he found Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari 'morally and legally clean'.
In the first part, Gurumurthy talked about how he, a chartered accountant, became an investigative journalist and a writer.
You are a well-known negotiator. You negotiated for the Bajajs, L&T and now for the BJP too. Why is it that people call you to negotiate when there is a problem?
These are only the known cases. There are other 100 cases which are not known. From what they have told me and from what I have experienced, they know pretty well that they can talk anything or about anybody to me without the information getting leaked.
If I have to solve a problem, I have to unburden everybody's pent up feelings. Some may cry, some may shout, some may thump desks... I calm them down by making them express their feelings.
I have the professional skill to suggest how to solve a problem.
Also, all of them know that I am fearlessly honest. A relative of the Ambanis once told me, you are the only person who can solve the problems they had with each other as both of them know you cannot be corrupted by the other!
Not only in the corporate world, politically also, you have taken up the issue the BJP had...
I didn't take up the BJP issue.
Was it because Gadkari was an RSS man that you investigated it?
No, not at all. I wanted to know what exactly had happened. When I saw all this in the media, it was so incredible that I thought there was something missing in the investigation. I felt nobody could do such a foolish thing. It was the case of perfect evidence, which never happens.
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Image: S Gurumurthy
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj/Rediff.com
'Original investment was genuine and approved by the I-T department'
So, nobody asked you to check the facts?
Nobody asked me. It was only my curiosity. If somebody had asked me, I would not have done it.
I called up the chartered accountant who was handling Purti (Nitin Gadkari's Purti Power and Sugar Limited), who I knew, and he came down to see me. What struck me first was the original investment of Rs 47 crore was genuine.
First, I did not understand why the original investment of Rs 47 crore was transferred to the 14 companies. They had transferred the shares at 40 per cent of the value. As a chartered accountant, I felt this was done to claim losses. But it was not so.
Then, I found that the Mehta group owned the companies in 2003 itself. This became known on the first day itself.
Did you try to contact the Mehtas when you found this out?
I told the chartered accountant that I wanted to meet them and he arranged a meeting in Delhi.
What was their attitude at that time?
They were worried as they were not used to their names being dragged out in the open. They were scared of the media. They had their projects running and foreign collaboration happening. At such a juncture, they didn't want their names to be discussed. I told them it was bound to come out and they had to tackle it.
They had made the original investment of Rs 47 crore and it was approved by the income tax department after investigation. Those investments were transferred to these 14 companies which had questionable directors, shareholders, offices, etc. They wanted to keep this away from them to get a global loan to pay off a one-time liability.
Mehta had another problem also. In 2002, his group of companies had some non performing assets problem. That was why he resigned as the director of Purti though the group was holding the shares. In 2009-10, they transferred all these shares to these 14 companies to say that they had nothing to do with it. The global loan came and a one-time settlement was affected. In December 2010, Mehta rejoined the Purti board.
This indicates that the transfer was only a make-believe affair to get the global loan. The most important finding of mine was that they had owned these 14 companies in 2003 itself. When they had to give a guarantee to the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency loan, Manish Mehta's name was prescribed as the guarantor but they told IREDA that instead of Manish Mehta, 11 of these 14 companies would give guarantee. It means it was their own affair.
What were the questions you asked them?
I wanted to confirm all my findings. They said, yes, they made the initial investment. And they also said, they had not told about this in public. The first question I asked was, whether they told the I-T department. Before I wrote the article, they called me and said that they had told the Income Tax department.
One of the accusations against Gadkari was that his driver was the director of one of the companies...
I also asked why some people close to Nitin Gadkari were the directors of some of the companies.
In fact, it was not Gadkari's driver; he was running a cab service 15 years ago. He is a very old reliable RSS man. When he came to Nitin, he made him an all purpose man, and sometimes, he even drove the car. So the media made him a driver.
He and some others were made directors by an official of Purti under whom they were functioning. Many people in the corporate world know that you generally put clerks, stenographers as directors of the investment companies.
Nitin didn't know all this as these are all Mehta's companies.
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Image: BJP president Nitin Gadkari
Presenting BJP with the findings
When you found out all this, did you talk to Nitin Gadkari?
He asked me.
After he came to know that you were investigating?
No. When I asked the chartered accountant for the details, he informed Nitin.
Nitin was also keen that the matter should be looked into by someone who would not make it public and create trouble for the Mehtas.
He told me that Mehtas were neither willing to tell the media this nor would they allow him to reveal their names. That was where the problem arose, he said.
I was convinced that the charge of money laundering, black money and corruption were not there at all as the original investment was genuine and approved by the Income Tax department.
Did anyone from the BJP contact you when they came to know that you were investigating this issue?
Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Advani (senior BJP leaders) were talking to me even before I studied the documents. In the party also, everybody was confused about what was happening.
After they came to know that I have studied this matter, Advaniji asked me when I could go to Delhi and share what I had found out.
So, on November 5, I met Advaniji.
How did the media come to know that you were meeting Advani, Jaswant Singh, Gadkari etc? TV channels were showing pictures of you going to their houses.
Perhaps they had assigned people in front of the houses of all these people. Once they saw me going to Jaswant's house and then at Advaniji's house, they might have felt that this fellow was there all over! Otherwise, there was no way they could have known. It was only an accidental discovery by the media.
What was Advani's reaction when you told him what you found out?
He was convinced that Nitin had not done anything wrong. After I met Sushma (Sushma Swaraj), there was a suggestion that I brief the party. They wanted me to give my opinion as a professional.
Not as a person who was supporting Nitin Gadkari?
Who said I was supporting Nitin Gadkari? Nobody in the BJP also felt that I was supporting Nitin. That was why all of them felt I brief the party. I was not very keen to do that initially. I told them that I would just brief them and go back, and I would not be there when they took the political decision. My condition was that in front of me no politics should be discussed.
Many people were surprised when you gave a clean chit to Gadkari.
Yes, there were many emails and tweets. All of them asked me how could I support Gadkari when I was supposed to be fighting corruption? That was when I thought I would put the whole thing in writing.
Even after you gave a clean chit to Gadkari, people like Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha wanted Gadkari to resign.
It is not because Gadkari was wrong. It is because the party and the anti-corruption plank of the party should not be affected.
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Photographs: Reinhard Krause/Reuters
'My professional opinion shouldn't be politically coloured'
There were some tweets by you that sent other signals...
That was my personal opinion. As a professional, I said that Nitin had not done any wrong. Then, many people started saying that Gurumurthy had given a clean chit to Gadkari so that he could continue as the party president. Him continuing as the party president was not my problem. I only said there was no wrongdoing in Purti, that's all. I have nothing to do with the political fall out.
You also tweeted that political leaders shouldn't be doing business.
That's my personal opinion. I never said he (Gadkari) shouldn't be in business. Then people started saying that I went back on my words. That is media mischief. I never went back on my professional opinion. Those two are different opinions. My professional opinion shouldn't be politically coloured in any manner.
Why did you decide to give your personal opinion at that time?
If I don't give it at that time, when do I give?
Why did you feel like giving your personal opinion then?
Because my professional opinion was interpreted as my personal opinion -- that Nitin should continue as the party president. That was none of my business. The media went on saying that Gurumurthy has given him a clean chit and now he can continue as the party president. That is why I decided to give my personal opinion. Then the media misinterpreted that too and said that I was rethinking my professional opinion. So I had to delete those three tweets of mine.
Did anyone from the BJP contact you after you tweeted?
Nobody from the BJP contacted me. Only one of my friends in the BJP, Balbir Punj contacted me.
Were they upset with your tweets?
I don't think so. Even if they are upset, they may not say so.
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'Media reports becoming a reason to resign is a recent phenomenon'
You gave a clean chit to Gadkari as a professional but the perception is not that in the minds of the people even today. People feel that he is not honest, and he is corrupt.
That the BJP has to handle. If there is a wrong perception about someone, the party has to handle it. When there was an allegation against Advaniji, he resigned and set a standard. He resigned only when a charge sheet was filed, and not when there was a media report. Media reports becoming a reason to resign is a recent phenomenon.
At a time when the BJP is fighting corruption, do you think they can have a party president whose image is tarnished?
There are two ways of looking at it. The BJP can first make the image of the leaders clear in the public mind by undertaking a huge campaign. They can challenge anybody to contradict the facts. The other way is, the president can resign, which is the other route.
In this case, I would say the media should not insist on perception when the perception was created by the media itself.
Why did you not talk to the media about this?
Why should I talk to the media? I am not from the BJP. I am a commentator and a professional. Why should I be the spokesperson of the BJP? Why is the media not writing about what I have found out?
How has the media changed over the years? In your tweets you were quite critical of the media.
I am very realistic about the media. The media must understand that it is no more a moral institution; it is a business institution. It is as good as any rank commercial organisation.
It cannot afford the kind of salary they give to journalists. It cannot have this kind of expenditure model. It cannot publish 64 pages. If it does all this -- I don't want to use a wrong word -- it has heavily compromised. Except some examples like The New Indian Express, The Hindu, Statesman, DNA, most papers are compromised.
So the sense of purity which is needed for fair, courageous comment is not there in the media. And they have to accept it. And the earlier the better for the media. It pretends to have these qualities but what you see is a messy public information system. There is no idealism left in the media. It has lost its respect for truth.
The visual media is the worst enemy of truth today.
After the Gadkari issue do you feel the BJP has lost the momentum it had fighting corruption?
The momentum of the BJP and the Opposition parties has been completely undermined by the Anna movement. Anna and Arvind Kejriwal, whether consciously or unconsciously, have damaged the battle against corruption. In the name of massifying the battle against corruption, they have actually diluted the issue of corruption.
The fight against corruption is always against the ruling party. It is always the Opposition which has to fight the ruling party. Corruption as a moral issue is different from corruption as a political issue. By mixing the two they (Anna and Kejriwal) have destroyed corruption as a political issue.
Photographs: Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com