“Who hated Shah so much?” This billion dollar question emerged in the minds of many rational thinkers, including the author of The Target.
Pune, April, 2017: The Target bares all—how Jignesh Shah, who innovated commodity trading exchanges for different classes of assets, was destroyed by a sinister plot devised by powerful brokers at Malabar Hills in India’s financial capital, and corridors of power comprising influential politicians and bureaucrats in Lutyens’ Delhi.
Wharton-trained investigative journalist-turned-author, Shantanu Guha Ray brings us the saga of the Rs 5600 crore payment crisis in the National Spot Exchange Limited, in his latest book.
The 233-page book is titled, The Target: The decimation of Jignesh Shah’s global empire. How he broke the market monopoly and the price he paid.
Financial Technologies India Ltd (FTIL) Chairman, Jignesh Shah, as you all know was a pioneer, who created ten world-class exchanges across a variety of asset classes, such as commodities, equity, currency, bond and electricity, in a period of merely ten years in India and abroad.
Established by Shah, these companies were original IP-based innovations. Interestingly, these companies did not involve any subsidy from the government or the banks for any land, labour or taxes for which Indian state-run companies and corporate are known to vie with each other.
Yet, this poster boy of commodity exchanges was harassed by vested business and political interests and interrogated by premier investigating agencies—Economic Offences wing of Mumbai Police, the Central Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement Directorate. Shah was put behind bars twice. Consequently, his wealth eroded and reputation was tarnished.
Why was Shah punished? He had stepped on too many toes and tried to democratise commodity exchanges.
Ray, who has been practising journalism for over three decades, specialising in business, investigative and human interest features, narrates the agonising moments of this innovative entrepreneur, who could have been a model for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India Programme.
“Was the cold-blooded and systematic destruction of some of the finest Indian institutions carried out only to promote one company, namely, the National Stock Exchange, and its interests in the market? I think the answer lies in the affirmative,” Ray writes.
So the author puts together a saga that is not explored extensively by business reporters from national television channels and print media. This is where Ray picks up his thread. He raised basic investigative questions.
Ray stumbled upon the story after Inderjit Badhwar, editor of India Legal, was keen to get to the skin of the story that had been covered by the media with extreme bias.
“Who hated Shah so much?” Ray writes. This billion dollar question emerged in the minds of many rational thinkers, including the author.
He concludes, it was a conspiracy of the high and mighty. Ray has identified three of the principal actors, whose mug shots have been displayed prominently above that of the protagonist, on the cover of the book.
He draws a parallel between Dhirubhai Ambani, who was harassed by then finance minister V.P Singh, and his two bureaucrats, Bhurelal and Vinod Pandey. Ray asserts that Shah became a victim of decisions pushed by then finance minister, P Chidambaram and two of the powerful mandarins in the UPA government.
He also says how Anjani Sinha, the then CEO of National Spot Exchange Limited, blamed Shah when the investigators got to him, trying to save his skin and turning sides as he did so, ignoring what he had earlier told the NSEL board. Sinha, in his earlier stint, had to quit the smaller Magadh and Ahmedabad exchanges after the payment crises there.
Harassment, interrogation and arrests followed. Financial Technological (India) Ltd (FTIL), Shah’s holding company was barred by the Forward Markets Commission (FMC) from running the MCX, a multi-commodity exchange.
It was not only the UPA government that killed Shah’s innovative ventures systematically. Despite BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP, Subramanian Swamy, sharply attacking Chidambaram and his son Karti as the masterminds behind the crisis at the NSEL, little has been attempted by the current dispensation to bring the conspirators to book.
It is important to mention that while different investigative agencies established the entire money trail of Rs 5600 crore to the 24 defaulting brokers of National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL), no money trail was established to NSEL, FTIL or its promoters. This was observed by the Bombay High Court in Shah’s bail order, after studying the charge sheet. The Special Leave Petition challenging the same was dismissed by the Supreme Court as well.
Asserting how Shah was ahead of his times, Suhel Seth, India’s leading social commentator, passionate orator, sought-after columnist and visiting faculty to the various Indian Institutes of Management, writes in the foreword to the book; “Shantanu has very effectively narrated the entire saga of how India’s indigenous growth story was killed due to some vested interests in corporate and bureaucratic circles, much before Make in India was ushered in”.
At the end, a few lines about the author. This is Ray’s third book. His previous books are a biography of the former Indian cricket captain, M. S. Dhoni titled Mahi and another one on cricket’s illegal cash called Fixed.
In 2011, he scooped the billion-dollar coal scam. This was followed by the airport scandal in Delhi the following year. His investigations into the scandal over cervical cancer human trials helped him win the Laadli Award. He bagged the Wash Award for his work on water-related issues. A recipient of the Ramnath Goenka Award for excellence in journalism, he was also part of an award winning team that probed the dangers of tobacco and asbestos across the world, for which he won the Washington Press Club Award.
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