Monday, November 19, 2012

Popularity vs Credibility

Published In Indian Express
19th November 2012 12:00 AM
“You should reveal who’s that big shot who foolishly asked you to probe Nitin Gadkari, risking your reputation,” asked one on twitter. I replied “Gurumurthy”. What made me probe Gadkari? Here is the story.
The incredible media disclosures on Gadkari made me think that any chartered accountant advising Nitin Gadkari could not be so amateurish as to arrange Gadkari’s affairs to package him as fraud. So, I called the chartered accountant friend of mine who, I knew, was handling Gadkari’s tax affairs and asked him what the facts were. The very next day he brought the critical documents and showed them to me.
On seeing the papers I was shocked again, but the other way round. About how recklessly has the media charged Gadkari with money laundering without checking basic facts. An apprentice in an accounting firm would have helped the journalists to do better homework.
Where did the media go wrong? The media looked at the 14 questioned companies holding the Purti ownership and without further probe, acting as Kangaroo Court, convicted Gadkari for ‘laundering his ill-gotten monies’ into Purti. The media did not do the basic check of the dates and events. If it had done the fundamental check, it would have found four irrefutable facts. One, that from 2001 to 2004, 12 genuine companies of the Mehta group in Nagpur had invested `47cr into Purti equity and it was eight years later, in 2009-10, the group transferred its investment to the questioned companies. Two, that, on a tax search on Mehtas in 2006, the authorities had verified and accepted Mehta’s equity into Purti as genuine. Three, that Mehtas had, in writing, owned the 14 questioned companies as early as in 2003-04 itself; so they were not ghost companies. Four, that Mehtas transferring their 47cr equity from 12 genuine companies of theirs to the questioned companies [also theirs] was like transferring it from one pocket to another pocket of theirs. Thus, without basic scrutiny, the media blindly sentenced Gadkari for money laundering.
The facts uncovered by the New Indian Express [Nov 11-12] have demolished the allegations of money laundering. Yet, Gadkari still stands damned in public mind because of the perception created by the media that lacked diligence. More. Instead of regretting that, on wrong facts, it has created a wrong perception, the media now asserts that, ‘the perception is that Gadkari is guilty of  wrongdoing’. The creator of the wrong perception is relying on its own wrong creation.
Here is the background to my articles and tweets. As I understand corporate issues, some senior BJP leaders had earlier asked me about my take on the media reports on Gadkari. I had told them that I had not studied his case. But, after I studied the Gadkari papers, I told some of them that the media campaign about bribe, money laundering and the like were untrue. Result, they asked me to brief the party’s core committee on my findings. I told the core committee what I had told the senior leaders individually. Later, accepting my findings, the BJP had taken political decisions. The media terming my findings as “clean chit” to Gadkari had imported a meaning beyond my professional findings on Purti. So, first in my articles, later in my tweets, after explaining that as a professional, I found Gadkari not guilty legally or morally in Purti affair, I added that my professional finding did not extend beyond its domain to issues like whether Gadkari should remain president or not. I also expressed my personal view that, if party leaders were involved in business, misconceptions easily arise. But, unable to contradict the facts uncovered and hiding its slips, sections of media began misrepresenting my article and tweets, and deliberately attempted to pervert my independent views as my rethinking on my professional findings! Less than honest journalism.
As my articles had challenged the media perception that Gadkari was guilty of money laundering, most readers reported in their mails that they were unaware of the facts till they had read the New Indian Express. Some were critical of my intervention. Some lamented that I had lost my credibility. Here, credibility has been mixed up with popularity, which comes and goes. Popularity can come by a hit song like “kola veri di”. But credibility does not come by doing what is popular. It accrues over long years by one’s courage to speak the unpopular truth. One has to dare unpopularity outside to reinforce one’s conviction within.
The conviction within gradually manifests as credibility outside. Take my campaign against the Ambanis. Even long after I had begun exposing the Ambanis out of total conviction, I was not seen as a crusader against Ambani’s corruption. Contrary, initially there was huge campaign that I was acting at Nusli Wadia’s behest. My honesty of purpose was humiliatingly questioned. And the rest of Indian media was dismissing the Indian Express exposure of the corrupt acts of Reliance as just one side of the inter-corporate war between Ambani and Wadia. Ramnath Goenka, subjected to intense calumny, stood firm and alone.
A turn occurred when, by a brilliant strategy, Ambanis substituted Rajiv for themselves as Indian Express’ target. How did they manage it? They planted a forged letter on Rajiv Gandhi to make him believe that I was actually probing him and his friends. A frightened Rajiv struck at me and Indian Express. Raids and my arrest followed. The Indian Express had to take its eye off the Ambanis and take on Rajiv Gandhi, the most popular and most powerful Prime Minister since Independence, with 406 members in Lok Sabha. And the Bofors and HDW deal bribery charges soon tarnished the “Mr Clean” image of Rajiv Gandhi. Then began the all-out war of Indian Express against the corrupt government. It does not need a seer to say that credibility is a long gestation virtue that accrues by courting unpopularity first. Here is a telling authority on popularity.
Puzzled at becoming a popular icon, I asked Ramnath Goenka how to handle the strange animal--popularity. He cited to me what Mahatma Gandhi had told the BBC after Gandhiji’s popularity had nosedived following his controversial withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement. The BBC correspondent asked Gandhiji, “Mr Gandhi, don’t you think that popularity has left you?”. To which Gandhiji replied, “popularity comes without invitation and goes without farewell”. Ramnath Goenka counselled me not to trust or chase popularity. That profound statement has guided me ever since.
S. Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on  political and economic issues.

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