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Corporate rivalry behind Birla FIR, say analysts

A clear pattern has emerged over the past four years of “selective targeting of key businesspersons who are providing stiff competition to overseas rivals”.

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 19th Oct 2013

These sources claimed that the FIR against Birla “had to be seen in the context of a clear trend of blackening the name of top Indian corporates”.

nalysts tracking the number of cases getting filed against prominent Indian corporate figures claim that a clear pattern has emerged over the past four years of "selective targeting of key businesspersons who are providing stiff competition to overseas rivals" in India as well as in international markets. They point out that in this period, key functionaries of the Birlas, the Tatas, the Ambanis, the Mittals, the Jindals and other key business groups have been "persecuted and often prosecuted", with multiple FIRs being filed that have the effect of "paralyzing normal operations and casting a shadow over an entire group". A senior analyst tracking linkages between certain NGOs and businesses headquartered in countries other than India pointed out that "an arrest, an FIR or even some sensational newspaper headlines become the first items that come up in any search of a businessperson's name". Because of the number of cases that are getting filed against Indian business groups, "the perception that Indian business leaders overall are crooks and unreliable partners is gaining ground internationally". His colleague added that "such a perception makes acquisition of overseas assets difficult". He further pointed out that "widespread negative publicity, often based just on interested leaks from select agencies, makes it difficult even to raise funds from abroad" for many business houses in India.

The analysts pointed out that "although foreign business houses indulge in the same sort of practices as domestic companies do", yet "there are almost no FIRs getting registered against key executives of foreign companies". On the other hand, "it seems to be Open Season on prominent Indian businessmen", he added. "Often the only evidence against such names comes from anonymous leaks from investigating agencies, who succeed in entangling business targets in litigation lasting decades", a senior official pointed out, adding that "getting a false case registered against a business rival is these days as simple as ordering a cup of tea". Even after such cases are shown to be false (often after years), "there is no action taken against the officers responsible". A senior official tracking the flurry of cases that have erupted since the past four years against Indian corporates says that "there needs to be severe punishment against those responsible for foisting false cases, rather than the present situation" (of absence of any consequences). A senior official traced the present spike in cases to some of the players active against the Tata Nano factory in Nandigram, claiming that "an East Asian MNC funded some of the agitations and suits in that battle so as to slow down the progress of the Nano". Since then, "other MNCs and even a few domestic players have been using NGOs in order to get their rivals into difficulty with the law".

According to an analyst, "there was 'shorting' of stock in companies run by Kumar Mangalam Birla in the days immediately before the CBI named him in an FIR on the coal scam". An associate pointed out that "once the FIR became public and the stock fell, these operators booked huge profits". He wanted an enquiry into the operators involved in shorting the stock of Kumar Mangalam Birla's companies "and whether any such operator had any contacts with those privy to the fact that an FIR was getting filed". Another analyst pointed out that "Birla had become a headache for international competitors, because of his many overseas acquisitions", including a Canadian company, and wanted a "full enquiry into the contacts of CBI officers and foreign elements, especially those active in Delhi cultivating senior figures in the government".

These sources refused to make any comments about CBI director Ranjit Sinha except to say that he has qualities that made him a favourite of Lalu Prasad Yadav and some others. According to an analyst, "it is the easiest thing in the world to plant misleading information on an investigating officer", who is often blinded to reality by the lure of making it into the headlines and becoming a hero".

These sources claimed that the FIR against Birla "had to be seen in the context of a clear trend of blackening the name of top Indian corporates", thereby making them less effective in fending off competition from abroad. An analyst repeated that "the Nano success at Singur emboldened other companies to follow the same path" of planting information in credulous police hands, and that the "results are clear in the cases filed against domestic companies that generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and several thousand crores of taxes". However, those close to the CBI dismiss such claims and say that "the agency proceeds only on the basis of facts and never with any motivation except to get at the truth".

 
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