Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sinners get caught, except in politics

Ramalinga Raju - Chairman of the Great Satyam Fraud

Kubera is a symbol of untold wealth. But it is important to remember that he earned his wealth through hard work, not cheating. He performed penance for 10,000 years. Ten thousand years! And that, standing in water with his head submerged!

Brahma was still not pleased. Undaunted, Kubera switched to a new, more punishing form of penance – standing on one leg in the burning centre of Panchagni. Now Brahma had no choice but to appear and grant his Bhakta the boom he wished: the treasures of all the world with the Pushpaka Vimana thrown in as bonus.

For the wealth Ramalinga Raju amassed, the penance will have to be performed, first, by Satyam’s 53,000 employees and then by India and its corporate sector for both of whom reputation is wealth.

Of course Raju will have to undergo his share of penance soon enough, but that will be at the most ten years in prison. Luckily for him, ours is a country where hardcore criminals can run for elections from inside jail cells and win. Raju may not be able to use his executive Pushpaka Vimana for a while, but there will be no Panchagni to roast him.

We are a blessed country with many Rajus practising the arts of fraud. Let’s not forget that it takes tremendous brain power to master the kind of cheating techniques we saw in Satyam. To cook the books to the level of 7000 crore rupees and make fools of banks, accountants, regulatory authorities and all is something that requires genius of an advanced kind.

This is an area where Indian genius is on par with the sharpest in the world. In fact, in sheer inventiveners, it is superior. Fudging of accounts is a familiar game that is played by kirana shops and Nasdaq companies alike.But to identify a gold mine in illegally printed stamp papers you need a gifted Indian brain. What originality! And Telgi did not even have Oxford Harvard sophistication.

Hundreds of thousands of crooks work stock exchanges round the world. But it required a Harshad Mehta to discover a legitimate loophole in the processing procedures of banks’ pay slips. He turned that loophole into a fabulous business model. What creativity!

These superbrains attract universal attention by the sheer daring they display. Some even win admiration. Remember how Harshad Mehta was lionized as the Big Bull and invited to give lectures on investment finance, the true businessman in him charging 2 lakhs per lecture.

An ungrateful world, alas, does not appreciate their talent. In the end, they all get caught. They spend their time miserably in narco analysis labs as Telgi does, or throw themselves into the sea as Robert Maxwell, the great newspaper tycoon of England did. Which raises the question: Is wealth through cheating worth it? Isn’t a night’s peaceful sleep better than all the gold and outsourcing contracts in the world?

The answer lies with politicians. They are the only ones who get away with it. Even when they are caught on camera receiving bribe, they only lose reputation which, being politicians, they don’t have anyway. Criminals can join politics and become state ministers and MPs. There is a message here for Ramalinga Raju. Become a party neta and he can still turn Satyam’s failure into asatyam’s victory.

But there’s another lesson he has taught that will remain valid for all time: Enterprise inspires, greed destroys.