Three books and the UPA government
In just under a week, three new books have explosively exposed the murky underbelly of what was the Congress-led UPA government. Their titles themselves tell the story: “The Accidental Prime Minster – The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh”, “Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths” and “Gas Wars – Crony Capitalism And The Ambanis”

The storm unleashed by Dr Sanjaya Baru, former press advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, half way through a crucial general election will not end in a hurry.  Dr Baru’s book, “The Accidental Prime Minister — The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh” has hogged media headlines for two days by giving an inside account of how Dr Singh was systematically ‘defanged’ by Sonia Gandhi during United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-2, which returned to power in 2009, in the wake of a global financial crisis.  In his television interviews, Dr Baru has argued that much of what he wrote has already been written by the media. 
The same may be true of former Coal Secretary PC Parakh’s book, “Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths.” But what both these books do, is to add key details from the inside. The coalgate exposes, were largely a follow up of the findings of the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) in a brilliant phase under Vinod Rai. The media did a great job of adding colour and detail, mainly through unnamed sources. But this is the first time that insiders have provided a detailed account of what went on.
The third book, “Gas Wars – Crony Capitalism And The Ambanis” by author and filmmaker Paranjoy Guha Thakurta along with Subir Ghosh and Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri is not an inside account. But makes up for it with a detailed and well researched account of the significance of the privatisation of natural gas, the battle over gas pricing, the gold-plating of project costs and the sudden vanishing of the vast gas reserves that were to make India self-sufficient, just a global gas prices began to soar. Despite the many allegations by Arvind Kejriwal about gas prices and the Ambanis, the inescapable conclusion after reading this book too is the complete failure of UPA to control crony capitalism and how industrialists were dictating and divvying up India’s natural resources among themselves. 
All three books confirm one fact -- Dr Manmohan Singh was heading a government in which he had "little" political authority and decision were dictated by Sonia Gandhi who had little public accountability.  If Dr Baru says, Dr Singh had become an “object of ridicule having little authority but no power”, Mr Parakh, against whom the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a case in coal block allocation, writes about a meeting where the PM expressed anguish about the humiliation of top bureaucrats by politicians and said, “he (Singh) faced similar problems every day. But it would not be in the national interest if he was to offer his resignation on every such issue.”
Mr Parakh goes on to say, "By continuing to head a government in which he (Dr Singh) had little political authority, his image has been seriously dented by 2G scam and coal-gate although he has had a spotless record of personal integrity. I do not know if the country would have got a better Prime Minister if Dr Manmohan Singh had resigned, instead of facing the humiliation of his own ministers not implementing or reversing his decision”.
The timing of the release of the books, when key states are still to vote in the general elections have added an interesting dimension to Indian politics. So far, the Election Commission (EC) has barred anything that could influence voters – the election code bars the inauguration of new infrastructure projects. The previous election saw the EC asking all elephant statutes installed by the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh to be covered up. This time around it objected to the symbolism of ‘chai pe charcha’ and banned these discussions. There are also restrictions on exit polls. But the Congress cannot even complain to the EC when a set of insiders choose to reveal explosive details to the public. All it can do it ascribe motives to the authors. 
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition may gleefully use the contents of these books to target the Congress in the short term, but they would be foolish to ignore their significance. These inside accounts shatter the cosy understanding between the ruling party and the opposition over what issues would be used to target one another. It signals to the political class that bureaucrats pushed to the brink will not be so kind as to time their memoirs for a time when they are largely irrelevant. They will come back to bite you when and when it really hurts. 
Part of this policy of omerta (silence) between Indian political parties was that they would not dig up shady deals of key politicians and their families – so sons, daughters, sons-in-law, bigamous marriages etc were never mentioned; not the many business deals that have seen each politicians declaring significantly higher assets even without holding an office of power. Kejriwal was the first to shake them out of this complacency and its impact is there for all to see. 
The opposition parties are definitely guilty of giving tacit support to the UPA’s shady decisions by failing to oppose bad policies in a sustained and systematic manner. No, the thundering rhetoric in television studios and outside parliament does not count. A recurring image in the televised proceedings in Parliament, on Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha television, has been that of empty benches, dozens of bills passed without discussion and frequent boycott of proceedings on the most flimsy grounds. The opposition was complicit in this. They were equally supportive of the crony club of industrialists who had found their way into parliament, often as Rajya Sabha members. It is no secret that many political parties 




3 years ago

As you've pointed out, books exposing corruption or political-business-media nexus tend to get "banned" ridiculously easily in India.
Even though the book "Gas Wars" is being self-published, how are the authors expecting to protect themselves against such hooligan-litigation? I fully expect Mukeshbhai and his various dukans to get a low court to get an not having a publishing house may not be much of a protection.
The only way in these things is for the book to be published outside India and then sold also as ebooks easily available in India.
As Manish has pointed out about "The Descent of Air India", while corrupt politicians who bankrupted AI are roaming free, the book is no longer available - not even in the ebook format (I was looking for it).


3 years ago

Why have we forgotten the now withdrawn book "The Descent of Air India " by Jitender Bhargava, former Executive Director of Air India.

As I understand, the book is not available for sale now.



3 years ago

Excellent piece. This nexus ia all pervasive in the entire economy. It includes capital market and financial sector. That's why investors are looted again and again and run from pillar to post and get no refunds, compensation or damages. White collar syndicate is omnipresent. This is democracy, Indian version.

Virendra Jain

Almondz Global’s merchant banker certificate suspended by SEBI

SEBI barred Almondz Global Securities for failing to exercise due diligence and for violating norms in the IPO of Bharatiya Global Infomedia 

Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) suspended merchant banker registration certificate of Almond Global Securities (Almondz) for six months for violating norms in the initial public offering (IPO) of Bhartiya Global Infomedia Ltd (BGIL).

SEBI in its investigation found that, BGIL had used the IPO proceeds in a substantially different manner and purpose from what it disclosed in the draft prospectus. BGIL also made incorrect and misleading disclosures in the prospectus.  SEBI said, “As a lead manager of this IPO Almondz has failed to exercise the required due diligence.” SEBI held Almondz equally responsible in the fraud committed by BGIL and its officials.

SEBI found Almondz guilty for failure to exercise due-diligence in respect of wrong, false and misleading disclosures and also in respect of non-disclosure of ICD raised by BGIL.
However, with regard to the third allegation of failure to carry out independent valuation, Almondz had been given ‘benefit of doubt’ by SEBI.

SEBI said BGIL and Almondz as its book runner lead manager (BRLM) of the issue has issued share at Rs82 per share, on the day of listing BGIL share prices opens at Rs81.9 and closed to Rs29.90 at BSE. Hence SEBI has decided to investigate its IPO proceedings.

SEBI in its order, barred Almondz from taking up any new assignment or involvement in any new issue of capital including IPO, follow-on issue in the securities market for a further period of six months from the date of the order. Almondz has been further directed that during this period of six months, it shall not take up any assignment or involvement in buy-back of securities, open offers under the SEBI and delisting of securities.

Read more stories on Almondz Global,

IPO Crackdown-1: Bharatiya Global Infomedia

SEBI to reform IPO norms to check volatility on listing day

SEBI action on merchant bankers, a bit too late?


What about Mistakes & Crimes of Juveniles?
If a boy falls off a bus while showing bravado, should the bus company be held responsible?

These days juveniles are very much in the news for committing adult crimes. Those under 18 years of age are considered as not fully mature and treated with kid-gloves, rather than being tried as adults.
The contention is that they are not totally aware of the consequences of their actions. It may or may not be true and that discussion is best left for another day. Today, we argue about the fine balance between knowledge, safety, bravado and care.
A boy of 11 years was travelling by a public transport bus in Mumbai. He was standing near the door. As is common in heavy AND crazy traffic, the bus driver suddenly braked to a halt. The boy lost his grip and fell out of the bus. Tragically, he landed on the road and was run over by another vehicle. He died.
Now, you be the judge.
Consider the facts. A boy of 11, not a child. Travelling alone or without a proper chaperone. Aware of the dangers of standing near the door of a moving bus or not? Was he just showing-off, as most youngsters are prone to do? Was he not paying attention to the possible danger? 
What about the other driver? The one under whose car the boy was crushed to death. In Mumbai’s traffic, where everyone is driving bumper-to-bumper, is it not impossible to avoid being involved in such a tragedy? And who should bear the blame? The boy? His parents? The bus driver? The other driver? Or the person who caused the dangerous situation that the bus driver was forced to apply brakes on an emergency basis? The bus company?
The court held against BEST, the bus company. This is where the question of negligence and the duty of care dovetail in law. Negligence is defined as wilful disregard in the course of duty. It involves the knowledge that something can go wrong if proper care is not taken. 
Invariably, in such cases, the law has a fall-back position. It takes refuge behind the argument of what a ‘prudent’ man would do in similar circumstances. Common sense being an uncommon commodity, prudence is the catch-all phrase. And then the courts decide on who had the greater responsibility.
A child’s life is lost in terrible circumstances. It happens everyday. In our young days, our Dad would not allow us to travel on trains on what was called the ‘foot-board’, for fear that our school bags would get caught in the railway track equipment, mainly poles. Here, a bus would be relatively safe. But did the boy’s parents caution him against standing near the door?
The other driver’s defence would be that he cannot be held responsible if a human being lands in front of his car, literally from thin air. What about BEST, the bus company?
When a company, or even an individual, provides a service, he has a duty of care. The conductor should ensure that the child is away from the door of a moving bus. Many will argue that, in this day and age, it is an impossibility. But then, we go back to our worn-out phrase: ‘If there is a malady, there has to be a remedy’.
Obviously, the traffic accident tribunal pinned the blame on the Bombay Municipal Corporation (as it was known in 1985), since BEST is owned by them. The Corporation was the respondent in the matter, not the driver. 
It was a clever move by the deceased boy’s advocate and is one more instance of not only finding the right forum but also the correct entity to file the suit against, for both, retribution and costs.
Bapoo Malcolm is a practising lawyer in Mumbai. Please email your comments to [email protected] or [email protected]


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