Suman K Sharma
Ours is a rich country of the poor.Watch BAD BOY BILLIONAIRES: INDIAand you will see for yourself. The four-part documentary series was hyped for its ‘investigative’ depiction of the (mis)deeds of four of India’s richest bad boys – Vijay Mallya, Nirav Deepak Modi, Subrata Roy and Satyam Ramalinga Raju.
As could be expected, it was challenged by Subrata Roy in not one but two courts of Bihar and by Satyam Ramalinga Raju in a court of Hyderabad. The later succeeded in having a stay in so far as his story is concerned. The documentaries on Mallya, Modi and Roy are streaming on Netflix since 5 October.
Acclaimed directors Dylan Mohan Gray, Johanna Hamilton and Nick Reid have done much to make the docuseries interesting. There is the glare of splendorous wealth, the swag of men who thought they were at the top of the world and there is also the heart-rending pain of the poor who have been swindled of their last rupee. In the beginning, each of the three protagonists – Mallya, Modi and Roy-is shown fired by ambition to reach the heights of glory in his own manner. Mallya and Modi hail from well-heeled families. Roy, in comparison, has had humble origins. Their singular dedication to fulfil their disparate dreams is admirable and for a while, they do taste the unspoilt nectar of success as well. Mallya becomes ‘The King of Good Times’. Modi gives tough competition to the world’s most celebrated jewellers and becomes an international celebrity. And Roy proudly wears the title of ‘Saharashree’, claiming to be ‘a chief guardian of the family of more than 12 lakhs Sahara India Pariwar (family)’. But as the documentaries proceed to their end, one cannot help loathing these gents for their megalomania, egocentricity and low cunning.
If you are hoping for any earth-shaking exposures, look somewhere else. There is nothing ‘investigative’ in the series. Only the known facts of the stories have been dished out in it, albeit in a palatable manner. Even its narrators can hardly be called impartial. Mallya has his son to speak for him. Author Shobha De, who also puts in an appearance, eschews any harsh criticism of the him. Modi’s former employees,now impoverished, have words only of sympathy and praise for him. And Roy, the Saharashree, has the wherewithal to organise mega shows to demonstrate how thousands of uniformed men and women still pledge absolute faith in him.
Even so, the fact remains that Mallya owes 9,000 crore to as many as seventeen Indian banks. Accused of fraud and money laundering, he is in the UK these days. Modi is being investigated in a 2 billion dollar (Rs. 1,472 thousand crore) fraud case of Punjab National Bank. (Besides, Paul Alfonso, an American entrepreneur has arraigned him in a law court of California for US dollars 4.2 million. The allegation is that he passed off two lab diamonds to the American as genuine ones). Like Mallya, he too is in the UK, but in a prison.As for Roy, the Hindustan Times reported on 4 March 2014 that his Sahara Group was accused of ‘various illegalities…in raising over Rs 24,000 crore from more than three crore investors.’ The Supreme Court has ordered Sahara Group to pay back the investors not only the principal amount but also the interest on that. Roy too was imprisoned in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail and has been out on bail since May 2016.
These are humungous amounts, particularly in the light ofthe harsh economic truths that we Indians face. Our per capita income in FY 2020 was Rs 11,254/- per month. At the macro-economic level, the total budgetary allocation for health in the country for the year 2020-21 is barely 67,484 crore, much less than the aggregate of the sums,if we reckon also the interest accruing on the amounts that the three billionaires are alleged to have siphoned off from the banks and the general public.
The docuseries, as such calls for aserious introspection on our part.
First, why would the three of the most promising entrepreneurs do things so wrong that they turned villains from the heroes that they were? Each of them had but almost realised their ambitions. They seemed to have everything going well for them. Did the grand success go to their head? Had they become over-grasping, going the way of ‘Ram Ram japna, paraya maal apna’?
Second, how did the banks and the government agencies grow so lax for them? We have tomes of rules and regulations to prevent fraud, not to speak of armies of watchdogs to implement them. Honey-bees sting a thieving hand to safeguard their hoard. How could Mallya and Modi slither awayfrom the ‘long’ arm of law to the foreign shores? Were the keepers of the keys lulled with the sweet syrup of easy money till the deeds had been done?
And what of the society in general? Those who barely earned Rs. 1,500-2,000 a month readily handed over what little they saved for the promises of handsome returns that Roy could not keep in the end. The middle class was dazzled by the unsustainable ‘good times’ offered by Mallya. And the filthy rich prompted Modi toslyly dig deep into the kitty of a nationalised bank to come out with the fanciest diamonds – genuine or otherwise.
That is how things too good turned too bad.
Suman K Sharma