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National Interest: The accused

How India Inc may have played a supporting role in its own persecution.

You have seen the government rise to defend the allocation of the Talabira coal block to Hindalco only because there is an implied threat here to the prime minister’s office. This is unusual, welcome, yet really late. Under UPA 2, by now, the redefining of India’s corporate class as the “chorporate” class is complete. The Anil Ambani, Sunil Mittal and Ruia groups were already under criminal investigation of some kind or the other. This month, with the Supreme Court asking the CBI to investigate the Radia tapes, we have seen two of India’s “most respected” (Industry Minister Anand Sharma’s words, not mine) join that mournful procession. Meanwhile, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has been canvassing for investment across international financial centres, and his hand-picked RBI governor, Raghuram Rajan (probably the UPA’s first wise appointment to a key autonomous position), is working to stabilise the rupee. It’s not going to be easy. Not when all of India’s top entrepreneurs are spending more time with experts in criminal law than on mergers and acquisitions.

You can look at it in two ways. One, that 22 years after Manmohan Singh launched his reform, two-thirds of its biggest stars find themselves at the door of the CBI. Two, that it is just over six months after Rahul Gandhi had his first public conversation with entrepreneurial India, at the CII (April 4, 2013). He hailed them as “cutting edge” and pleasantly surprised both his admirers and critics with that smart line about a job being the difference between aspiration and empowerment. He also invoked John F. Kennedy to say that while a rising tide lifted all boats, you needed to build new boats for those who didn’t have any and were therefore left out. The same “cutting edge” businessmen who were to build that boat are now in the doghouse. And his own rhetoric has changed radically. It is back to the 1960s, povertarian, rich versus poor idea of India, where the fate of Bharat was sealed by a handful sitting in “air-conditioned offices”. ACs moved from being an elitist luxury to one of our aspirational white goods a long time ago. You are also tempted to ask if the NAC, which drafted such virtuous handouts for the poor, functioned under an old ceiling fan, or a neem or peepal tree. But let’s not get distracted.

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