Of poll, pelf and politicians

Sanjay Kapoor Delhi

It was an interesting admission. And it could come only from someone like Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose clowning, at times, gets the better of him. He told a rapt audience that economic slowdown would make it difficult for political parties to raise funds from the corporate houses for the forthcoming general elections. Yadav said that the businessmen were refusing to entertain calls for funds.

The voluble railway minister who prides himself in being a ‘village bumpkin' was engaging in half truths. He did not reveal that many venal politicians normally ask a return of their own funds earned through corrupt means. These funds are usually parked/ invested with businesses so that they appreciate with time. And, when the businessmen do not answer their calls then there is a cause for worry for many of them who are not backed by muscle power.

There is a disclaimer though: no moneybag dare shortchange politicians like Lalu or Sharad Pawar. The same though cannot be said about Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is moved around by his nose by his manager Amar Singh.

Invariably, there are no receipts/ papers to prove investment of politicians in these companies. So, when the businessmen begin to play truant then there are violence and fireworks. Similar scene seemed to have played out in the case of Satyam Computers, too! When I went to Hyderabad to understand the contours of the Satyam scam, I was told by a senior intelligence officer of the Andhra Pradesh government that the real story behind Satyam's owner Ramalinga Raju's fraud had not found space in the media. "Is Raju really a fraud?" I asked him. "I only have one basic information, which neither denies nor corroborates whether Raju is a swindler."

According to this intelligence source, son of a senior state leader visited Raju one day and told him to give him the funds that he had invested in Satyam Computers. Raju, told him that he could not return his money which had been invested in the real estate sector. And, after it had tanked there was, one, no buyer for the land. Two, there was no way money could be retrieved by selling land.

This influential relative of a politician would not take no for an answer. It may sound apocryphal, but according to this source, he allegedly beat up Raju and told him that if he did not show up the money quickly then a worse fate awaited him and his family.

Raju reportedly panicked. He knew the seriousness of the threat, which had been aggravated by his manipulation of his account books to fund his love for real estate. The failed attempt of Satyam to take over his son's infra company Maytas -- preferred company for the Andhra Pradesh government -- was an attempt to square his books and save Satyam in a recessionary economic environment. His enraged investors did not realise his compulsions, his fears and his desperation to clinch the Maytas deal.

Raju was stopped in his track. This source alleges that a senior police officer played a role to force Satyam's promoter to cough up money for promise of protection. The letter that he wrote to the board of directors -- the signature in that letter did not match his -- and the long gap before he got arrested shows complicity between elements in the government with the disgraced Raju.

Interestingly, for quite a while central agencies were not allowed to interrogate him.

Why is Raju's bizarre story important? As elections come closer and a mad scramble for money to fund polls seizes political parties and individuals it would be illuminating to see how loss of liquidity in the economy impacts their behaviour. Will there be more Satyam? Watch out for the pain of slowdown deepening the desperation of those who want to return to power riding on bad money.