Because of their monetary reach, very little gets mentioned in the public sphere about “vulture capitalists”, those who place the pursuit of money above any other consideration and who consequently take part in activities that drive millions of global citizens to penury and even death. Vulture funds are an example, which buy up accumulated debts of dirt-poor countries at a fraction of their book value and misuse the legal system in the US and in certain parts of the EU to launch litigation designed to make these poor countries expend their pathetic reserves on improving the already bulging bank accounts of a few conscienceless individuals. It needs to be remembered that much of this debt was accumulated through purchase of hyper-expensive equipment and payment of foreign consultants who are less than optimal in local circumstances. The gouging of more funds from such countries amounts to cheating them twice over, in a sense, although it must be said that much of the cheating would have taken place with the connivance of politicians eager to build up offshore accounts by selling out the interests of their impoverished countries. The other major class of human vultures are those individuals and entities who indulge in speculation on the commodities market that have the effect of boosting up prices and causing mass starvation in some instances and consumer hardship in every case. Such activity is particularly toxic in India, a country which is home to 300 million desperately poor individuals and a further 300 in a lifestyle that is barely at the edge of a viable existence.
Economists of the Chicago school and its variants invariably come to the conclusion that what is good for billionaires is great for the common man, and hence the justification for speculation in essential food items. Such a free pass hinges on activity that is related to a market accessible to all. It does not apply to those who subvert policy for their benefit. The huge spurt in the price of onions during the UPA period and toor daal during the present dispensation has given rise to the suspicion that the cause had nothing to do with market metrics but was related to the bribing of officials and politicians to tweak policy in a way that made the shooting up of prices inevitable. Despite his frequent admonitions on the subject of rectitude, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did nothing—repeat, nothing—to bring to book the handful of vulture speculators who repeatedly ensured spikes in the prices of agricultural commodities. Now that Narendra Modi has become his successor, such actions need to get investigated and criminal cases filed against those responsible for spurts in price that shattered household budgets. In the case of toor daal, there are reports that policy got tweaked in states such as Rajasthan and Maharashtra that ensured the shooting up of prices of this staple of popular consumption in the market. Several actions, both by state government authorities as well as by international vulture speculators caused a price spike that may have assisted in the defeat of the BJP in Bihar at the hands of Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar. The onion and toor daal cases need to be examined by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau, the Central Board of Direct Taxes and other agencies so that those responsible for the sharp price increases seen in these foodstuffs get exposed and punished. An example needs to be made by Prime Minister Modi of the politicians, officials and private speculators who squeeze windfall gains out of the suffering of tens of millions of those lacking a voice in a culture that for too long has been marinated in graft.