Beni Prasad Verma was right in a way about Salman Khurshid. In the days of scams worth hundreds of thousands of crores why would a minister like Khurshid scam a measly 71 lakhs? Practices by team members usually follow those set by the bosses. The boss either indulges in or approves and overlooks corruption. It is, therefore, hardly a surprise that most cases of corruption come from Congress or Congress-ruled states. Even the size and nature of Shashi Tharoor’s 70 crores shouldn’t usually worry the Congress.
Barter is a very old form of trade. It still exists and there are even online companies that provide barter services. As transactions get more sophisticated barter trade acquires new names and meanings. Sweat equity (SE) is really not very different from barter. Only, in the case of Sunanda Pushkar (SP) we have no idea what was being bartered. We do know of equity being allotted to her but have no idea what she delivered in return or was hoping to. A very clever barter system was devised by none other than Times of India. It fashionably called it ‘Private Treaties’ (PT). Companies used to seek and pay for publicity, pay for suppressing adverse reports and, of course, for normal advertising. The last part is fine but TOI decided since the first two parts are already being done by PR people why not legitimise it and run private treaties.
Under PT TOI picks up an equity stake in a company in return for publicity through advertisements, news reports, or advertorials in print or TV. Usually these are young but promising companies that are likely to go public in some time. So, for services provided, PT gets equity from a company. Is it any different from sweat equity? No, not really. When the public issue does come about and share prices are sky high TOI sells off the equity and makes a killing. So if 70 crores of SE were given to Sunananda, who knows, in five years it might have been worth 200 crores if everything else had gone smoothly. We’ll never know.
If you search deeper you are likely to find that under PT TOI hid many facts, passed off advertisements as news or editorials and in certain cases went much beyond. As Moneylife explains, in the case of Pyramid Saimira Ltd. journalists and the company owner colluded to forge a SEBI order and illegally made a killing with inflated prices of its shares. The persons involved have since been banned from trading by SEBI. The innocuous concept of SE does come with its own lethal doses of crimes. In another case ‘The Hoot’ discovered something unusual about an accident involving lifts at a construction site in Bangalore. The accident caused some deaths but while other newspapers named the construction company TOI didn’t mention the company at all. Well, that’s somewhat like an Indian house-wife who never mentions her ‘bread-winner’ husband by name. Turns out the builder, Sobha Developers, is a husband in TOI’s private treaties. Such sweat love, isn’t it? TOI has now made PT sound even more fashionable and stylish; they now call it Brand Equity Treaties Ltd. Brand Equity, a supplement in Economic Times, also used to conduct quiz competitions between corporate houses under the ‘Brand Equity Quiz’.
So what exactly is Sunanda so upset about the ‘50Cr’ tag? Well, not really her but the “ever-Aurat-ki-Izzat” loving media. The first one she ran to was NDTV. I have long back written a post: “Tainted? Have a chat with Barkha”. Lately in Barkha’s absence Sunetra Chaudhary fills in for her. But let’s not deviate. This NDTV is the same channel where Syed Bukhari called Shabana Azmi a “Naachne wali, Gaane wali” in a live program. Umm.. I guess both are “secular” so that can pass. This is the same NDTV who more or less painted Bhanwari Devi a money and fame-chasing whore in their article “Bhanwari Devi was determined to live a life less ordinary”. You can be forgiven for reading the article and believing BhanwariDevi sort of invited her murder. And the murderers? Oh some Congressmen are accused, so that case is likely to linger for eons. Their group editor, who else but Barkha Dutt, outraged against the ‘50Cr’ but forgot how she suggested women “self-combusted” over loutish politicians (This was around the suicide of Geetika Sharma in which politician Gopal Kanda has been accused and the other probably a reference to Bhanwari Devi). It wasn’t NDTV alone, Headlines Today and CNN-IBN didn’t lag behind. Any idea why all of a sudden these channels were so enthusiastic in letting SP, the oh so ‘Bhartiya Naari’, play ‘victim’ on TV? I leave that for you to figure out.
All this when just two years ago our media was eager to trash SP. Some headlines are quite interesting. Outlook called her a “..Girl, named Sue”. Can’t be sure, but this was probably picked up from the legendary late Johnny Cash’s country song about “A boy named Sue” who wanted to kill his father for naming him so and finally finds the reason why he was so named. Even Tehelka, the cheap tabloid, didn’t want to be left behind and headlined her a “Vamp” in an article supposedly meant to defend the woman. Sensationalism, Tehelka style! Not to be left behind Indian Express in “Jammu to Dubai…” carried a comment that shockingly casts more aspersions on the woman than any other comment you may have heard. I wonder if IE would have carried the comment today. That comment is from someone who claims to know SP but we can’t take that on face value. Mind you, I’m not in any way endorsing that comment or treating it as true or validating it. Just showing our media what they carry in their pages depending on the sign of the times.
Sweat is thicker than love. It pays! Robert Vadra bought a piece of land for 7.5 Crores. He pays for it with a cheque (A cheque? All of it with a cheque? Ha!) that is not to be presented. It’s money he never even had in the first place. He shows the amount as a ‘ghost-loan’ or OD from Corporation Bank in his books. A few months later he sells it to DLF for 58 crores. Neat! Surely, land prices didn’t go up that dramatically, did they? No! But I guess Vadra sat on that piece of land and sweated for four months to earn get the difference of over 50 crores for the same land. How did he sweat? Well, he got the Haryana govt to alter the land use privileges for that land in a jiffy and that’s the sweat he added. After being rattled from their slumber our media now reluctantly carries stories of Vadra’s land dealings. The Hindu’s latest article even reveals “Web of political links helped Vadra’s land deals”. Sweat love can be expressed in different ways. 50Crs tag for SP or 50Crs profit to Vadra.
The most intriguing aspect of the whole story is that fountain of sweat love; Rendezvous Sports. Very apt name, Rendezvous! Who or what exactly is Rendezvous? Who funds it and where did the funds come from? That’s what started the whole controversy in the first place. Ironically, it’s another Modi, Lalit Modi, who let Tharoor’s sweat out of the bag by disclosing the background through Twitter. With a 26% share in Kochi IPL team, this company handed out free gifts to many. 5% was handed out to SP for her sweat. Even Salman Khurshid stated back then that the ROC may look into Rendezvous to check if they violated rules to enter IPL. The IT Dept. stated it will initiate an investigation. Ever heard anything? Ever heard any media outlet following up on that story? The story dried up and died. Not surprising. The right question that the media cronies aren’t asking is “Who is Rendezvous and why was SP given SE in the first place?” Not even in the latest series of interviews was SP asked the question. I guess it’s not relevant for the purpose of the interviews.
While SP is a character in this story it’s not about her. She doesn’t realise how the media used her first as a “vamp” and now as a “victim” to suit their own agenda. But SP played right into their hands uttering typical victimhood rubbish. I do have a message for our media and SP. Stop teaching us we need to go to convents to learn about “cattle class” and that PDA means “Public Display of Affection”. What SP did show right through is a different type of PDA; “Public Display of Affront” and contempt for the intelligence of ordinary men and women. To indulge in opaque deals and then for the media to present certain people as “victims” is where our media becomes the first line of defence for the corrupt. Sweat Equity is a good thing; it’s a good concept for budding entrepreneurs who aren’t cash-rich. Unfortunately, in India, the powerful public figures are capable of turning any good concept into a delivery system for bribes. After all, even that DLF CEO, Kushpal Singh, called bribery “facilitating speedy disposal”. To rephrase the great, revered freedom-fighter: “Give me sweat and I’ll give you equity and endless love”.