DEFIANCE: Ramkrishna Bajaj owner of Bajaj Scooters was the only industrialist who dared to point out that the emperor is naked. And that the economy is sinking. The RBI itself has admitted that growth is at its lowest and even in Goa the unemployment rate is over 30%.
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
The government is dependent on the corporate sector for growth to create jobs. There is no reason why the corporate sector should not speak up as Ramkrishna Bajaj did. The BJP is digging its own grave and sooner or later will collapse. The flame of freedom has become feeble and is flickering. But nobody can put it out which is why you should atleast subscribe to the Goan Observer which is free of fear and keeping the flame alive
NO other profession gives you as much power as journalism. Provided ofcourse the owner or publisher is a man of principle. I belong to a lower middle class family. I had never visited a five-star hotel or drunk Black Label Scotch. In the days when I was looking for a job even the chowkidar at the gate would not let me in. All this changed when I became a trainee sub-editor in the Financial Express, the financial daily of the Indian Express Group of Publications.
One day I recall being asked to do an interview with a small industrialist who used to make a face cream for women under the brand name of Afgan Snow – which was synonymous with face creams then. The company was owned by a Muslim gentlemen called Patanwala. He was an early bird and had given me an appointment at 9:30 am. I had just finished my night shift in the Financial Express which ends at 3 am. Since the suburban trains started only at 5 am we used to put the tables together and have a nap using newspaper files as a pillow.
I was in tacky torn jeans and a purple kurta. Since the appointment was at 9 30 am I did not see any point in going home to Bandra and returning. I just had a wash in the office washroom and went directly to the factory at Byculla, close to the commercial capital. It was famous because top cop Julio Francis Ribeiro stayed there and happens to be the brother of former chief town planner of India, Edgar Riberio.
I had also not shaved for a month or even trimmed my beard. My clothes were crumbled as I had slept in them. Not surprisingly the watchman at the gate would not let me in. He thought I was some mavali. By then with my three months experience in journalistic dadagiri, bullied the watchman. I warned him that if he kept me waiting his boss would sack him. He was still suspicious and accompanied me to the reception. The reaction of the receptionist was equally hostile. She refused to believe that someone looking like me could have an appointment with her boss. I turned on my charm and humbly requested her to inform her boss that I had come as per the appointment he had given me.
To everyone’s shock the boss who was dressed in a three-piece suit came out into the reception and embraced me. We went back into his cabin where at 10:00 am in the morning he offered me coffee with a very expensive brandy. Normally you have coffee with cognac, the most expensive brandy, after dinner. He was so anxious to please me that he was willing to give me the expensive brandy at 10:00 am in the morning. After my write-up appeared Mr Patanwala sent me a large box of Afgan Snow. My women office staff of the Indian Express were very happy because I gave them the Afgan Snow. The reason why Patanwala was so welcoming was because he wanted publicity.
My employer Ramnath Goenka was not a very generous person. This was long before the wage board in 1968. The salary of a confirmed sub-editor was `400. Mr Goenka’s logic was that in any a case we got dozens of invitations for lunch and dinner at the best five-star hotel press conferences. So why did we even need a salary! I used to at the Oberoi, dine at the Taj with any amount of scotch I wanted to drink. Except on one occasion when I went for dinner to attend a party sponsored by a big industrialist and had to walk back home later as I had no money for a bus ticket. The watchmen in five-star hotels are used to shabbily attired media people. Even if I wanted to I could not afford to buy a suit. Over a period of time I got tired of all the scotch. I did not want to become addicted to expensive drinks which I could not afford on my own. On our own we used to drink army rum which was supplied very cheap to the Defense Forces. When I started asking for rum at five-star parties the host thought that I did so because I did not trust the quality of the scotch. They insisted that it was asli scotch as those days there was lot of nakli scotch floating around.
I met the father of the now richest man in India — Dhirubai Ambani, father of Mukesh Ambani, and Anil Ambani. An incidentally the father-in-law of Goa’s Dattaraj Salgaocar. Both the Salgaocars and Ambanis had flats in the same building called Usha Kiran, which was then the highest skyscraper in Mumbai. The romance of Deepti and Dattaraj was probably a romance which bloomed in the lift while going up and down to their respective flats!
That apart I met Dhirubai Ambani when I was deputy editor of India’s leading business magazine, Business India. Unlike the sons whom I seldom met, the father was self-made. Dhirubhai started life as a petrol pump attendant in Aden. After returning to India he started trading in polyester yarn. Dhirubai was a genius when it came to making friends and influencing people. He believed everyone had a price and could be bought. Dhirubai was friendly with everyone and greeted them with a warm hug. I had the advantage of knowing him as I also taught conversational English to Mukesh Ambani at one point when I was doing my masters in economics in Mumbai.
When I told Dhirubai that I wanted to do cover story on Reliance Group he was very reluctant. Kyu karne ka hai? Humko nahi chahiye! I pointed out to him that everyone in the media and his fellow industrialists were calling him a crook. He said they were jealous of him. The man who is spreading rumors about him is himself a bigger crook. Finally, I persuaded him to let me write a cover story. Dhirubai Ambani had made his first fortune by exploiting loopholes in the rayon and nylon export promotion schemes. It has been alleged that when he decided to set up a factory which was more like a five-star hotel he had the government policy on textile machines changed for only 20 days to benefit him.
This enabled him to make polyester which unlike cotton did not crumble. But all the time even while he was building his empire brick by brick he carried in his pocket the blueprint of an oil refinery. Between him and his sons he succeeded in setting up the largest petroleum refinery in the country. Dhirubhai Ambani’s political friends before whom he appealed with folded hands and probably made tempting offers to could not refuse him and helped him bend the rules if not break them. To be fair it was not possible to do business without bending and breaking the rules under the then permit license Raj which existed.
And whatever may be his faults Dhirubhai never compromised on quality. He always wanted his way and most of the time succeeded. There is a story of the golden and silver chappal. When I wrote my story I revealed how he had taken the help of the then leading politicians to bend the rules to help him. Dhirubhai was furious. He got a copy of the Business India copy from Tata Press where it was printed even before it reached the office. He called up my boss Ashok Advani and demanded that the issue be scrapped and I should be sacked. My boss Ashok was one of the best negotiators. He suggested a compromise and leading politician of the times Rajni Patel, who was the main fundraiser for Indira Gandhi, intervened. We had to dilute some parts of the story. But by and large it appeared with all the dirty tricks Dhirubhai Ambani had resorted to become the richest man in the world.
THE ugly truth is that politicians in India are so corrupt that they can be bought. And even if you are an honest businessman you have to be careful in meeting their demands as they are in power. We see this happening daily these days because commission earnings of politicians have become more common than ever before. If a businessman says anything negative about the government or his policies, immediately there are income-tax raids. Where necessary the Enforcement Directorate files cases against businessman and even former Finance Minister PC Chidambaram bore the brunt recently.
As Rahul Bajaj, toughest and most fearless of industrialists in the country, commented at the Economic Times leadership summit. I wondered whether there were any industrialists there who would criticize Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah and their policies? What is true is that although the government made a mess with demonetization and GST they will not admit it. And industrialists who were worst affected would not say a word!
Once upon a time there were some brave publishers in the country. Among the most courageous was Ramnath Goenka who took on the Reliance Group when he found that his own employees were taking bribes from Dhirubhai Ambani. What made matters worse was that he was told by Dhirubhai that he should not complain about Ambani deals when he had no control over his own employees. This let to war between the Indian Express and the Reliance group. It was an expensive war as Reliance which was the biggest advertiser stopped giving advertising to Indian Express. The series of articles exposing Dhirubai Ambani were written by the RSS chartered accountant, Guruswamy, who was close to Ramnath Goenka.
Times have changed. Even during the Emergency in 1975, I have not seen newspaper owners crawling when merely asked to bend. Many of the top journalists in the country like our own Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt and more recently, Faye Dsouza, have been sacked on the orders of the top BJP brass. There have been raids on Radhika and Pranoy Roy for the courage of their Hindi chief anchor Ravesh Kumar and he had to be sacked by Pranoy Roy. A young lady who exposed the leaks in the database of Adhaar cards, supposed to be confidential, was sacked overnight. Since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 and the late Goa chief minister, Manohar Parrikar returned to power in 2017, the Goan Observer has not been getting government advertising. Even old dues have not been paid.
I can understand newspapers publishers bending and prostrating before the BJP top brass. They survive on advertising and particularly the tender notices and various advertisements released for welfare schemes by the BJP. I cannot understand why the Birlas and Tatas should be afraid of the BJP and its top leaders. Ultimately, people want jobs. For jobs to be created there have to be policies which are industry friendly. If you levy a GST of 28% on my food in a five-star hotel how will the hotel survive? If you start raiding businesses who open their mouth like Rahul Bajaj, industry itself will come to an stop. We are heading towards an Atlas Shrugged situation. Atlas Shrugged is the name of a book by Ayn Rynd who is considered the patron saint of capitalism. Who urged all industrialists to go on strike if the government harasses them. Much simpler of course would be to sell your companies and migrate abroad as many businessmen even in Goa are doing. Unfortunately for us in the media we don’t have much of a choice. But we know from experience that dictators do not last long, even Indira Gandhi had to call for an election after 18 months of the most severe emergency.
KINGDOM of HINDUtva
ONCE upon a time in a kingdom called Hindustan there was a very vain king. The king was obsessed with dressing up. When foreign ambassadors came he got a suit made with gold thread reading his name. He liked to change his clothes every two hours. But he was very particular and if the product did not match the design he become angry. Immediately they had the tailor killed in a police encounter! The tailors became frightened, no tailors were willing to stitch the king’s clothes. One young clever tailor thought of an idea. He approaches the king and told him that he would make a robe in which sun, moon and stars would shine. The king was very pleased and paid him a large sum in advance. The tailor came to the court, asked the king to take off his clothes and put on his light as feathers new robe.
The king was khush and decided to take a walk in his new robe. Through everybody in the kingdom could see the king was naked, nobody dared to say it. Finally, a little boy whispered “But the king has no clothes, the king is naked.”