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'Demystifying Sahara group was my biggest challenge'

June 06, 2014 17:50 IST

Image: Author Tamal Bandyopadhyay chatting with Rediff viewers in Mumbai on Friday.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/

Business Journalist Tamal Bandyopadhyay’s latest book Sahara: The Untold Story has created a huge flutter.

The book, by one of India's most respected business journalists, is based on meticulous research, and attempts to lift the veil off India's most secretive conglomerate, Sahara India Pariwar.

Naturally, it drew the group’s ire, so much so that the latter moved the court against the book's publication and sought Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion) as damages from the author.

After months of legal wrangling, Sahara India reached an out-of-court settlement with Bandyopadhyay, enabling the book to come out at last.

On the eve of the book's launch, the journalist-turned author appeared on Rediff Chat for a live interaction.

Click NEXT to read the transcript. . .

'Demystifying Sahara group was my biggest challenge'

Image: Cover of the book by Tamal Bandyopadhyay.

Manish-Kumar Johri: R u satisfied with your book?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Manish: Yes I am happy with the outcome. Will need to add a new chapter later on his days in jail and the latest development. The book does not cover the latest part

Nice Thinker:  Will the Sahara brand collapse after this incident?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Yes, it's tough time for Sahara brand. They need to launch a campaign to rebuild the brand. But one thing we need to remember -- rural India is a different ballgame and that's his playground. Rural people are committed to the group

Amit Chakraborty: Sir, what will be fate of Sahara employees, can sahara regain further

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Amit: I am told some employees are being transferred but it is not confirmed. No doubt that the Sahara brand is dented and they also need to take a relook at their business model.

Shubhadeep Chattopadhyay: Hello Mr. Tamal, Do you think that Mr. Roy will try to escape the legal proceedings once granted bail or he may even go absconding (rare possibility)? and will he now be able to pay the money (20000 cr.) to investors as he is facing problems for arranging money for his bail also?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay:  He cannot escape Shubhadeep. His passport has already been taken away

Raju-Shirsat: what is ur problem with sahara? becuz of u want publicity or some personal attitude!

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Good question Raju: I have no problem with Sahara. I am just doing my job as a journalist.

Rajesh Pandey: In an answer, you said "Once income tax department tried to probe whether politicians are keeping money with him but nothing was conclusively proved." . With Income Tax department giving clean chit to Gadkari, after the wave was apparent in favour of BJP, can their version on source of money in Sahara Group be believed ?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: That was in 1997. The IT department did not give him a clean chit but the probe led to nowhere

Rajesh Pandey:  Raja , he is not in jail for NOT paying Income Tax, but for not obeying Supreme Court in coming clean.

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: He is in jail for not obeying court order to appear. Contempt of court.

D S Sastry: Sir,Sahara is present in all corners. In some tiny towns, where there was no nationalized bank, Sahara was. I think the success of Sahara is on faith and optimism of youth. specially unemployed. Am I right?- D s Sastry

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Sastry: they have lakhs of agents. Had our banks been present at the hinterland, Sahara would not have succeeded.

. . .

'Demystifying Sahara group was my biggest challenge'

Image: Subrata Roy.
Photographs: Reuters

Sanjay Joshi: Hello sir, congratulations to you and appreciate your will power to publish facts about a giant conglomoreate... What was your motivation and how did you start with this book?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Sanjay: it was nothing but journalistic curiosity. And I enjoyed every moment of it, including the legal challenge

Firoz Khan: How big is the Sahara scam?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: I don't know whether you can call it a scam, in the conventional sense. The money involved is running into thousands of crores -- some Rs20,000 crore

Satish Pulli: Do you think Mr Roy will be able to pay the bail amount that the SC has asked him to deposit? Even if the SC has removed the stay on some of the assets?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Satish: He will, by selling assets gradually. He can't do it overnight as that will force him to sell at a massive discount

Rajan Sha: How much is Sahara's business legitimate and how much is ill-gotten wealth?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Rajan: That's difficult to say.

Umar Khan: Why was it possible for Sahara to fudge accounts so long without anybody getting to know what was happening at Sahara?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Umar: No investigative agency has actually probed Sahara as yet. As and when that happens, we will get to know many things

Nitin Badesha: What was the reason behind you writing the book?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Nitin: As a journalist I am always curious about the Sahara group. Not much is know about the group because it is largely unlisted. I thought it would be a good subject as many people want to know about Sahara

Suman Singh: How many years of research went into the writing of the book

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Hi Suman, As a journalist, I have been following the Sahara group and its activities for quite a few years now, probably from 2005. But for this book it took me one year to research and complete writing.

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Suman: One year

. . .


'Demystifying Sahara group was my biggest challenge'

Image: Subrata Roy with Sahara employees.
Photographs: Reuters

Amit Shellar: what would you say was the biggest challenge in writing the book?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Amit: The biggest challenge was to demystify the group. Here is a business conglomerate which has 4799 establishments under its fold through 10 business verticals, and only four of its companies are listed. It employs some 1.2 million people directly and indirectly, the second largest employer after Indian railways. It was like feeling an elephant.

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Amit: The biggest challenge was sourcing information. Not too many people were willing to cooperate

Hitansh: what sort of pressures did you have to face to get this book published?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Hi Hitansh: There was no pressure while I was writing the book. The pressure mounted after I finishing writing it and the book was ready for release. Even before the book was released the Sahara group moved Calcutta High Court, got a stay on its publication and filed a Rs 200 crore defamation suit against me! Do you call this pressure?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Hitansh: The stay order of high court and the Rs200 crore defamation suit were the toughest part

Lakshmidasu Narsimha: what made you to choose being journalist

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Narsimha: It's difficult to say. Guess I confused journalism with creating writing. I wanted to be an author. Scope of meeting people and curiosity about things around me made me a journalist

Suneel Bonjani: You write poemsplease can you share one of them with us.

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Oh dear: Yes, I do write poems but that's in Bengali. My book of poems "Anupam Meenrashi" is available in Kolkata

Nitish Chandak: when did you decide you wanted to be a financial journalist?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Nitish: I got into financial journalism in 1995 -- not by any design. I was into general reporting before. It just happened.

Gadgets-Gaming: Give us the behind-the-scene story of how Sahara collects, invests and if you have some evidence then launders the money of India's politicos... :-)

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: That's long story- -- can't be told over a chat which allows me only brief interaction. If you read the book, you'll get some sense. It's available from today

Gadgets-Gaming: Why do you think is the SC not giving bail to Sahara Shri. He is such a nice chap! What do you personally feel about the way he built up his business empire?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: The point to note is not a single investor has gone to any regulator or court alleging misuse of money against Roy and yet he is spending months in jail. There is a school of thought which finds in this judicial activism. I guess he was given a long rope and because he refused to appear at the court, the judges got upset. This is their way of teaching Roy a lesson -- no body is above law.

. . .

'Demystifying Sahara group was my biggest challenge'

Image: Sahara group chief Subrata Roy being taken to Tihar jail.
Photographs: Reuters

Kartik Dhadda: what was your reaction when you were sued for 200 crore rupees? :-)

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Kartik: I was not scared. I thought it was a strong arm tactic. They wanted to scare me but I stood my ground and fought. Those were difficult days but I was determined and never thought of giving up

neetu chaubey: how long did it take for you to write the book?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Neetu, It took me about a year to complete the book.

girddhari jashnani: Do you think he be able to pay

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Yes, Girddhari, he will be able to pay by selling his assets. But if he wants to sell lots of assets quickly, they it will be a firesale -- at a huge discount. So, he needs to space out the sale

Gadgets-Gaming: Sir, who is blocking your book's release?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Nobody at this point. The Sahara group tried to block its publication by getting a stay in high court and filing a Rs200 crore defamation suit against me. But that's history now.


Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Thank you Ramurthy

Gadgets-Gaming: Dear Tamal, do you think the Narendra Modi-dispensation will take a negative view against Sahara as they are the moneybags supporting the Samajwadi Party in UP?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: This is a very tricky question. My understanding is Roy has relationship across political parties. Despite that, he has been spending months in Tihar Jail. That shows the judiciary is truly independent in India. What will happen now is anybody's guess

Eknath Gangulee: Sirwhat do you make of India's economy? How will it change in the years to come?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Eknath: Macroeconomic indicators are better that what they were a year ago. The currency is stable and current account deficit has come down to less than 2% of GDP from over 4%. Inflation is still high and the RBI is determined to fight it. If the govt sticks to its promise of fiscal consolidation, better days are ahead of us.

Lalji Margasahayam: What do you make of Mr Roy as a businessman?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Lalji: As a business man, he is smart. The main raw material of his business is money and he collects it uninterruptedly. When one door closes, he opens another door. For instance, when RBI stopped his RNBC business, he floated OFCDs to collect money and once Sebi slams the door on OFCDs, he started collecting money through cooperative societies. He uses the regulatory loopholes efficiently.

Manasi Nath: Have you met Mr Roy ever? What were your impressions of him?

Tamal Bandyopadhyay: Manasi: Indeed I met Mr Roy, and quite a few times. He exudes warmth. There's a personal touch and makes you feel comfortable. I liked his company.