Opinion
The battle lines are drawn by the fraudsters even as the might of the Indian government issues notices.
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Explanations by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) about how Nirav Modi landed in the group photograph in Davos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a select group of Indian business people and a handful of bureaucrats, do not wash. While one says the man was not on the official list, the other says he was not part of the official delegation. But the world saw him in that very official photograph, tucked away in row two, grinning from ear to ear.

Nirav Modi’s Firestar Diamond is a partner of the Schwab Foundation (Social Entrepreneurship). Klaus Schwab heads the World Economic Forum (WEF). According to the foundation’s website, Nirav Modi “…diamond jewellery brand is India’s first global luxury brand.” Read here.

What this simply means is that the man at the centre of India’s biggest financial scandal - now reportedly pushing $2 billion - did not need the Indian government’s invitation to go to Davos. The problem, however, is elsewhere.

If you know how Davos works, you know it is a fortress of sorts and the key that opens all doors is a piece of plastic called the white badge. In the strictly controlled caste system that is Davos, the white badge gets you access to everything, everywhere and almost anytime. Paying members get it automatically, and there are some discretionary handouts in the form of IOUs (especially among developing countries including India). Others fight to get the white one and those who don’t, sulk. 

The story now being put out by official sources (who else) is that Nirav Modi walked into the reception with some officials and positioned himself strategically. Who are these officials?  Are we to believe no one knows them? Apropos, this is no selfie. It is a composed photograph. What prevented the Prime Minister’s minders from pulling Nirav Modi out of the picture? Intelligence failure, intentional failure or both?

Something else bothers me deeply. Weeks after the financial fraud that will have a long-lasting effect on India’s banking and financial industry (BFSI), government officials are fumbling around trying to trace the absconding Nirav Modi and his partner-in-crime Mehul Choksi. Where is the heavy artillery? By this I mean, how many capitals have we rattled around the world to trace the duo, where does the red corner alert (both are fugitives fleeing from justice) process stand, why are top banking heads not rolling and why is India being fed garbage about raids and procedures, FIRs and amounts recovered?

Here’s a 101 for the uninitiated. Dirty and criminal money always travels faster than law, it knows no boundaries, it has takers all over the world for a price, it can submerge, surface and strike at will, it has no boss, it follows no rules and smears everyone and everything it touches. I would have expected our top financial dogs, politicians and bureaucrats to know this instead of playing victim and hurling accusations at each other.

What moved me to write this piece were some testimonies from Indians that were read out on Republic TV last night. One said he was a retired officer who lived off his pension and filed his income tax returns diligently. If there was an inadvertent error on his part even for a few hundred rupees, he didn’t have the luxury of delaying his response to the tax officials who would impose punitive fines. Another asked if his money in the bank was safe as he too was a retired pensioner.

These are heart-breaking stories and this loot has touched India like none other in recent times as it raises questions about banks and their systems – places where people go to keep their hard-earned money safe. Can they still hope to do so? This is not about sleaze at the top and endless stories about raids and meaningless action. For now, Niraj Modi – Mehul Choksi are thumbing their nose at the Indian government. At the time of writing, comes news that Nirav Modi has accused the PNB of diluting the value of his brand because of their undue haste. Read here.

The battle lines are drawn by the fraudsters even as the might of the Indian government issues notices. Paper tigers and bombastic threats from New Delhi will fall by the wayside on this one. If the guilty are known – however high and in whichever political party - arrest them. If not, stop pretending. People’s anger is a blink away from turning into a people’s movement against corrupt leaders. Nationwide.

(Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.)