Author: Shantanu Guha Ray
On a hot May afternoon in Mumbai, India’s divided city, the incident happened exactly the way I took notes and wrote it in my reporter’s notebook. Integral to this one was a prolonged conversation, not one, but a few in quick successions.
The conversations are an example how devious minds have always worked in India, messed up growth and dreams, and always killed great passion and great market push. Such conversations are rarely made public, unless some intrepid reporter works overtime, and unless some sudden Right to Information (RTI) note – in some ways India’s answer to poor man’s investigative journalism – pushes out secret notes from rickety almirahs in government offices.
I was, somehow, lucky to know. It was an authenticated source from Delhi; I did not need RTI papers or sting tapes.
It went like this. “Sir what do we do, we have nothing against him, nothing on him? He is cooperating well with the cops (read Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Mumbai Police). They called him seven times, he visited them 21 times. He is even helping them with his IT team to open up the case so that the money trail can be traced. The cops are happy with his cooperation. They are not keen to pull him in, arrest him,” said a top official of the Ministry of Finance.
By then, the Arvind Mayaram Committee had, in fact, put in every investigating agency against Shah in less than a month, “but truth being on his side, he is facing bravely.” “A new government is coming, if he continues to remain a free man, he sure will open a Pandora’s Box and seal our fate. We could be in trouble,” the official sounded worried. “So what do we do?” he asked in the same breath.
There was a deathly silence, probably the person on the other end was plotting. And then the person answered.
“Get the cops to arrest him somehow and put him in custody. The lock-up will break his spine. Once he is destroyed mentally, a defamed man like him will have no takers ever again. If the cops don’t relent, I will get the CBI to go after them,” the person declared.
Who was this person? A top minister, a seasoned bureaucrat? The subject of this devious conversation, a fairly clear hint of what transpired between the two, was offered in a cloaked manner the following day in the country’s largest business broadsheet, The Economic Times, was none other than Shah, then the non-executive director of National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL) that was in the thick of a Rs 5,000-crore plus payment crisis.