It is said Prime Minister Narendra Modi (no relation, let me hasten to add!) is keen to show that his government means business.
People find it hard to trust bankers these days, and who can blame them? So many have taken the country for a royal ride, and played with money that doesn’t belong to them in the first place. The latest scandals and developments involving some of the biggest, most influential and high-profile names in the banking sector are proof enough of the deep-rooted rot that has corroded our banking system. Some would say the corruption model currently in vogue was introduced right after the radical nationalisation of banks that took place in July 1969 under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. God knows what her intentions were at the time, but in retrospect it sounds like a phoney and deeply flawed “reform” that only helped politicians to get richer. What we are witnessing today is nothing short of mass-scale looting. And to think this systematic deception (which is now under investigation) has been going on for close to a decade. Where were the regulatory bodies when all this gol maal was taking place? How come nobody demanded more vigilance? Better checks and balances? Is it possible that successive governments were kept in the dark while this wholesale thievery was taking place? Nirav Modi and his partners in crime are sure to be laughing at how effortlessly they conned everybody and waltzed off with crores and crores and crores of other people’s money. The question of getting either the stolen money or them back to India doesn’t arise. Whether or not he is living the good life of a wealthy fugitive in St. Kitts is immaterial. The fact that he has brazenly got away with multiple crimes is what bothers citizens. It is said Prime Minister Narendra Modi (no relation, let me hasten to add!) is keen to show that his government means business. He is not only cleaning up our beaches and streets, he wants that broom to clean up the banking establishment too. Or so the story goes. His admirers believe him. Sceptics wonder whether all of this is one more drama to show up the lapses and gross malpractices indulged in by the previous UP
A government. As citizens, we don’t really care what his motivations are, so long as we see some concrete results. Thus far, there has only been big talk. All that noise needs to translate into action. A few key arrests should follow — it’s the next logical move.
Just as we were absorbing the number of zeroes in the NiMo scam, along comes an equally juicy bank “robbery”. This time, it involves a lady who was hailed across continents as a dynamic global leader — one of the most successful female bankers in history. A woman who had won every conceivable award in her sector (banking), not just in India, but across the world. She was routinely featured in important power lists, and had made it to coveted platforms that applaud influencers from various fields. Today, this same lady is being subjected to some sharp and merciless criticism in the media, while the banking industry has gone into a huddle, wondering what comes next?
If her dodgy decisions are being examined closely, will her mentors and former bosses be spared? The handling of ICICI Bank MD-cum-CEO Chanda Kochhar could turn out to be the test case India is waiting for. While the bank’s board has expressed “full faith” in her, the sentiment across the board is totally different. In fact, there are any number of people waiting impatiently for more details to emerge in the public domain before they open their mouths. Stories about her unconventional methods have been doing the rounds for a while. But she was considered way too clever and well connected for anybody to raise questions about her modus operandi. Now that the suspect dealings and documents have surfaced, it will be one hell of a challenge for her to protect her reputation, and more importantly, the reputation of her bank.
Cherchez la femme has been turned on its head in Ms Kochhar’s case, with her businessman husband being in the line of fire. Simply put, it appears to be a case of someone ratting on the Kochhar couple. Perhaps a jealous former colleague or an envious competitor. On the face of it, this sounds like a classic sweetheart deal — the banker wife sanctions a `3,250-crore loan to Videocon promoter Venugopal Dhoot, in exchange for a juicy `64-crore deal for the mister. Come on, if this is not nepotism/quid pro quo, what is? The bigger question is: why is the ICICI Bank board supporting the boss lady? At least, for the moment? Then there are the rumours about another sweetheart deal with a builder who has provided a swanky duplex on Worli Seaface to the couple, and surprise, surprise... got a coveted plot cleared in Goregaon for an ambitious project.
This is just the beginning. God knows what more the investigating agencies might unearth over the next few days. What a shame, really! Chanda Kochhar had positioned herself as the ultimate role model for corporate women. She was projected as a woman who had it all. A professional who had made it on her own terms, thanks to her brilliance and hard work. Impeccably clad in fine silk sarees and wearing top-of-the-line jewellery, her blow-dried hair and discreetly made-up face picture ready at all times, she was the idealised image of a female careerist — feminine, strong, capable. A woman who knew her priorities and balanced her family life beautifully with the myriad demands on her time. Soft-spoken and charming, Chanda Kochhar could so easily have gone down in history as the Model Female Banker. Today, that position seems under threat.
Perhaps she will emerge unscathed and victorious. But Mr Deepak Kochhar has already taken the role of Ceaser’s wife in banking circles. No amount of serious damage control is likely to change that.