One year out of power, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has still no clue why it lost either the general election or people’s trust. Instead, at every turn, “the Party with a difference” continues to flaunt the same sloth, opportunism and hypocrisy that led to its defeat in the first place.
Its top rung leaders, including BJP President L.K.Advani, are obviously too old to control their unruly flock. They also appear to exert no influence over the middle rung leaders who continue to ‘shock and awe’ with their infighting (remember Uma Bharati’s outburst), allegations of corporate nexus (Pramod Mahajan’s cronies being granted Reliance Telecomm shares, allegedly while he headed the Telecom Ministry) and now by the sheer brazenness of Arun Jaitley in arguing for scamster Ketan Parekh in the Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank (MMCB) debacle case.
Mr.Jaitley is a lawyer, and as such, has the right to defend anybody. In fact, like most lawyers appearing for murderers, rapists, serial killers and crooks, he can always argue that every individual has a right to a good defence.
But remember, Arun Jaitley is a high profile lawyer who practices in the Supreme Court of India. This means that his services are expensive, and only someone who has a lot of money can afford to hire him.
Consider this. Ketan Parekh who had been identified by the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) as a central figure of the Scam of 2000-01, and who is singularly responsible for the collapse of MMCB, causing tens of thousands of investors to lose their life savings can afford Mr.Jaitley’s expensive services.
Yet, the man who caused a whopping loss of Rs 843 crore to MMCB driving it to closure and whose nexus with Unit Trust of India’s top brass, led to lakhs of the investors of India’s largest mutual fund losing money, has not been able to meet any of his repayment commitments made before the courts.
Not only has Parekh not been able to pay back MMCB, but his dubious little deal with Bank of India, where he was given a generous moratorium of four years before repaying Rs 115 crore in instalments also becomes due anytime soon. Clearly, if Parekh is unable to make any payments to MMCB, there is no question of him being able to repay BOI. But again, so long as he has the money to hire an expensive lawyer who was also the former law minister, he can always delay justice for small depositors and continue to fight another day. Did this not occur to India’s former Law Minister when he allowed Ketan Parekh to score a hiring coup by buying his services?
Logically, politically and ethically, it would have been more fitting if Mr.Jaitley’s services were available free (pro bono) to the depositors of MMCB.
Firstly because, the Scam that led to the collapse of MMCB and caused widespread losses to scores of cooperative banks (for those who don’t remember, MMCB’s collapse had a domino effect on Gujarat’s cooperative banking sector, because smaller banks used to park their funds with MMCB also lost their money) happened during BJP’s rule in Delhi.
Secondly, Ketan Parekh was allowed to manipulate stock prices with such impunity because that his cronies among industrialists were very close to several top BJP leaders. In fact, their protection ensured that these industrialists have never been properly investigated and continue to owe several hundred crores of rupees to many banks. Now, a top BJP leader becomes his defence attorney. Moreover, the compromise deal with BOI, that gave Parekh four years before starting to repay over Rs 100 crore was also cleared by the Finance Ministry headed by a BJP Minister. (Bank of India officials, did not respond to our queries before this article was printed. They have since said that the compromise deal fell through because they insisted on the continuation of the criminal cases against Ketan Parekh. They also say that Ketan Parekh has repaid only a few lakh rupees and the matter is expected to come up before the Debt Recovery Tribunal on June 14. He still owes Bank of India a sum of Rs 121 crore).
Thirdly, MMCB happens to be in the constituency of Mr.L.K.Advani, former home minister and Arun Jaitley’s mentor. The same man, who as Home Minister was rushing through a Rs 1264 crore revival package for MMCB in order to ensure that he did not, personally, lose the sympathy of his voters. The proposed deal had a government guarantee and the Deposit Insurance Guarantee Corporation forking out Rs 464 crore. Thirdly, it happens to be in one of the few states ruled by BJP.
Interestingly, a condition of the revival package had been that “the ability of the new management to take effective steps to ensure recovery of advances made to various debtors of the banks, including the Ketan Parekh group”.
Little did anyone know that a few years later, BJP’s telegenic spokesperson and former Law Minister would have turned a mouth-piece of the scamster himself to help him delay/avoid repayment and keep him out of jail too.
Any argument suggesting that by keeping Ketan Parekh out of jail, the depositors stand a better chance of getting their money back is a myth. As I said earlier, his repayment to BOI also becomes due sometime soon. That a scamster, is able to hire an expensive lawyer who comes with the added qualification of being a BJP spokesperson to deprive depositors in the constituency of BJP Party President L.K.Advani is only an example of shameless and opportunistic politics. Let the BJP not try to redeem the move by giving it any other spin.
(This article first appeared in Divvya Bhaskar, the largest selling newspaper in Gujarat, on 30 May 2005.)