Many Faces of Fraud
Who Calls the Shots in China?
Fun at Politicians’ Cost
Think it Through
Many Faces of Fraud
There is no dearth of people who’re clever enough to have a good time at the cost of others. There is a Bengali short story that there was once a bhadralok who couldn’t live within his means. So, unfailingly, he had to borrow money from a friend in the last week of the month. Of course, as a man of honor – as all bhadraloks are – he made it a point to return the loan by borrowing from another friend. For months and months this deft device of deficit financing continued.
After a year or so, a bright idea occurred to him. He called both his friends over for tea. After the pleasantries were over, he told his two friends: “I’ve a suggestion to make to both of you. One of you should give amount X to the other and next month reverse the cycle. Henceforth, I want to be left out.” His kindhearted friend agreed to his suggestion and he was off the hook.
Some others aren’t so lucky. But they love to thrive on others. Charles Dickens described such a character in Martin Chuzzlewit. Nobody remembers him these days. However, everyone has heard of Ponzi and Ponzi schemes. Charles Ponzi was a clever (who else could he be but an American?) entrepreneur. He started in 1920’s a fraudulent investment scheme and made people invest their money on tempting rate of return. The scheme became hugely popular. He made it a point to pay out returns very regularly for a while out of subsequent investments. Then he ran out of luck, and one day the bubble burst.
And that’s exactly what has happened in West Bengal to Saradha Group operations. Here the operators had spread their tentacles far and wide, putting Mamata-di in an embarrassing position.
Are you shocked by the lamentations of the deceived investors some of whom the kind-hearted Didi wants to help by further taxing helpless smokers? The wily Saradha owners used to buy Didi’s water colors. There are dear readers, ways and ways of winning friends and influencing people that even Dale Carnegie couldn’t think of.
Remember the oft-quoted aphorism of the Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it”? That’s, unfortunately, the lot of Bengali investors. The Saradha fraud is the exact repeat of what happened in the late 1970’s. There was then a company called Sanchaita Investments which offered 20% interest on deposits. As an extremely service-oriented organization it undertook to home-deliver the interest amount by noon on first day of every month.
I remember its operations very vividly because quite a few of my friends had invested in the company. I used, however, to ask them how can someone give 20% return unless he was earning at least 25% and which are those businesses that yield such returns? No one bothered about it. Reason flees when greed sets in, is the old adage. And one day the owner of Sanchaita –Chatterjee, I recall was the name – committed suicide. And that’s that.
Thirty years later the new incarnation is awaiting a similar fate.
And when it comes to Ponzi tricks and techniques even the Government-sponsored schemes don’t mind to try them out. Some of you may recall a hugely popular investment portfolio in the 1980’s called Units 1964. By the end of 1988, UTI had Rs. 6,700 crore of assets under management. Almost blindfolded, it was paying a 20% dividend. And when forced to pay as per income on its investments in the market, the dividend plummeted one year to zero.
There’s a phrase in Latin ‘Caveat Emptor’’ i.e., ‘Let the buyer beware’. Learn your lesson.
Who Calls the Shots in China?
It was, I think, good old Winston Churchill – he worked over time to chisel quotable quotes – who coined the oft-quoted phrase an enigma wrapped in a mystery. He used it to describe his bête noir, the Soviet system which fortunately succumbed as a victim to its own contradictions. However, the descriptive metaphor has survived. And these days it is often deployed to describe the Chinese system of Government.
No one in today’s China, including those who are supposedly at the helm of affairs, knows who in the final analysis really calls the shots. Is it the Communist Party or the civil authority or the People’s Liberation Army or the Overseas Chinese or some mysterious invisible decision-maker who decides what to do and, far more importantly, when? No one seems to know for certain.
A few weeks hence, Premier Li Keqiang is scheduled to visit India on a goodwill promotion trip. What a wonderful preparation for it to send 40-strong armed unit to introduce into eastern Ladakh. Is someone behind the scene warning Premier Li? And if so, why? Or is it to remind India that China still believes that Ladakh is one of the five fingers of the palm which Tibet is. So, make no mistake.
What a wonderful Government we have which believes that that the best possible way to solve a problem is to go on postponing it almost forever till the invisible hand performs some miracle.. If you want to choose a name for this strategy of problem solving, call it Nehruvain method of problem-solving. He patented the technique first in sorting out the accession problem in Jammu and Kashmir and then repeated it to deal with the situation after Chinese invasion in 1962.
Fun at Politicians’ Cost
Common people like you and me do want some fun in life. Don’t we? And even at the cost of our leadership.
In that respect, democracy offers infinitely richer fare than party dictatorship. For instance, we have fun, day after day at the cost of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Baba and Manmohan Singh.
Der Spiegel reports that Communist Party leadership in China is aware of this need of people and has decided to organize amusement trips. “[T]he idea is for Chinese people to have fun with their political party, to enjoy themselves in the great amusement park of Communism. They’re invited to feast on braised pork, Mao’s favorite dish, in the leader’s birthplace of Shaoshan. They can drink from the well Mao himself supposedly dug in Ruijin or carry fake rifles aboard a roller coaster at the Cultural Park of the Eighth Route Army, where they can re-enact the war against Japan. There have even been National Red Games, including events such as ‘storming the log house’ and a ‘grenade toss.’ Party training centres and companies send members to these destinations as part of educational holidays. China saw over half a billion ‘red tourists’ in 2011 alone.”
HHow about organizing trips to Raebareli and Amethi both to promote tourism and let people see first-hand the great development work our leaders are supposed to have done in their pocket boroughs?
I lived in Kolkata at a time when Mother Teresa was deified as the angel of selflessness, the true and perhaps as the only savior of the poor and the uncared for. I however was never convinced about the true intentions of the Sisters of Charity. I always thought the real intention was to convert the heathens – read Hindus – to Christianity rather than alleviate their suffering and their poverty.
As a matter of fact I’m very skeptic of all those religions that lay the untenable claim of exclusivity, which really means: I alone have the access to the green channel to heaven. Therefore exists, the perennial conflict between those who maintain that theirs alone is the only right way. There’s the perennial conflict of choice between: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” and “O People! I am the Messenger of Allah to you all.” Hence, my faith in Vedanta which alone proclaims loud and clear that all paths lead unto the same destination.
We Indians tend to accept things only after they have been certified by someone abroad. Now a team of Canadian researchers tell us the much-lauded Catholic nun was “anything but a saint,” In a study about to be published in Religieuses, a French-language journal of studies in religion and sciences, they suggest the nun’s approach to caring for the sick was to glorify human suffering instead of – what really matters – relieving it.
Mother Teresa was always lavish with her prayers for the poor, but mighty penny-pinching with the wealth amassed by her foundation. Where did it disappear after the angel was gone? The Vatican too was condescending to Mother Teresa’s “rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding … abortion, contraception and divorce.” Very spacious indeed are the Vatican cupboards that store skeletons of centuries!
NNo, we don’t need Teresas. We have suffered enough. We have to find a way to end suffering rather than learn to accept it perpetually.
Think it Through
The American poet, Arthur Chapman said: “Every generation is a secret society and has incommunicable enthusiasm, tastes and interests which are a mystery both to its predecessor and to posterity.”
But don’t you think that the society you belonged to was the best?