The Target

Shantanu Guha Ray

Price: Rs 341

Pages: 240

Serious investigative work in print is rare these days, finding an entire book of skeletons from the deep boroughs of our bureaucracy and corporate corruption indeed rarer and challenging. The Target is indeed a special effort from seasoned newshound, Shantanu Guha Ray. It has had three editions—English, Gujarati and Marathi—in quick successions, all bestsellers. It’s a tell-tale investigation, giving documentary details from confidential government files, with mug shots of the powerful conspirators of the NSEL crisis on the book’s jacket itself. No wonder, the book has sold around 50,000 copies and become the No. 1 bestseller on Amazon in the Business & Economy category within 90 days of its launch. The regional language versions have also become No. 1 on Amazon within weeks of the launch. All the three versions have also topped the bestseller charts at Crossword, a leading bookstore chain.

Guha Ray picked up multiple threads of the Rs 5,600 crore payment default at the National Spot Exchange Ltd (NSEL) some years ago to realise that the default was a craftily hatched conspiracy in which the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, and his favourite bureaucrats, K.P. Krishnan, the then joint secretary (Capital Markets) in the Ministry of Finance and Ramesh Abhishek, the then chairman of the Forward Markets Commission (FMC), the erstwhile regulator of the commodities markets, were the troika of destruction. Their mission was to destroy tech-innovator Jignesh Shah because of his flagship company, Financial Technologies (India) Ltd (FTIL). The reason: FTIL and its innovations had threatened the vested interests of the three in the National Stock Exchange (NSE), now in the news for all the wrong reasons. 

The Target is a serious investigation into a complex market crisis that involves vested interests in the UPA-2 government and big brokers. The author claims it took him close to two years to unravel the unholy nexus that destroyed the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation symbolised by Jignesh Shah, who is revered as a tech-evangelist in the Exchange Empire he once ruled with his FTIL. Shah’s FTIL, which has been looked upon as a genuine Made in India story, has now been rechristened as 63 Moons Technologies Limited, since it is no longer in the Exchange space now.

It was precisely for this reason—to oust Shah and FTIL from the Exchange space—that his powerful rivals, with the help of Abhishek as the head of the FMC and Krishnan in the Finance Ministry, created the NSEL crisis and used it as a tool to target and hound him despite the fact that not a paisa of the default was found with him or his companies. The Economic Offences Wing, Mumbai, traced the entire money trail to the 24 defaulters of the crisis and even the Bombay High Court affirmed this, but that has not put an end to Shah’s persecution. It is sad, it is unfortunate. The book describes how Shah pioneered the creation of 10 new-generation regulated multi asset (commodity, electricity, equity, currency & bond) financial markets in just 10 years across India, Singapore, Dubai and Africa. No innovator has been credited with such accomplishments across the world. All the markets were No. 1 in India and No. 2 in the world.

Shah was obviously riding a crest from which very few could have toppled him by way of talent and performance. But he had taken on institutional forces like the NSE and invisible forces that backed NSE, including its political godfather, corporates with vested interest, rich and powerful brokers and FII fronts —known as the famed Malabar Hill Club—by sheer performance to democratise the market prosperity to the masses.

The 233-page book is a result of the author’s meticulous research on how such entrepreneurship and technology-led innovation—capable of breaking market monopolies and creating a new order and thousands of jobs—can also suffer at the hands of those who are actually responsible for facilitating their growth.

The author has made the book quite an interesting read by drawing references from Bollywood and ancient mythology to modern-day developments. He has likened Shah to Abhimanyu of the epic Mahabharata, who was trapped in a sinister plot by the Kauravas and, to John Galt, the protagonist of Russia-born American author, Ayn Rand’s hugely popular book of the 1950s, Atlas Shrugged.

Drawing parallels between the two, Guha says, Galt’s philosophy of objectivism resembles Shah’s. Both championed the pursuit of rational self-interest that would ultimately lead to collective glory. Like all heroes, they have had to fight against a mediocre economic and social structure that tries to strangulate innovative individuals striving for excellence. Both Shah and Galt fought against the system and paid a heavy price at the hands of the high and mighty for prioritising the interests of the masses. In his case, Shah wanted to democratise the benefits of the stock markets and take them to the lowest common denominator of society but was stopped in his tracks.

Although The Target revolves around Jignesh Shah and the NSEL crisis, it raises some pertinent questions. Guha points out that the crisis could have been very well solved much earlier, but it was deliberately kept alive with the malicious intent of annihilating an individual and his work of a lifetime, but in the process, the country ended up harming its own interests. This shows, says Guha, how we treat our entrepreneurs and innovators, who are the pillar of growth as a nation.

The author says that a country needs to guard its institutions and not destroy them if it wants to realise its dream of Make in India. Incidentally, Shah’s was a true Made in India reality that was destroyed much before Make in India came into existence. He feels the new government should resolve the NSEL crisis and do justice to all its victims by fixing the responsibility of each of its constituents in the larger interests of the markets and the nation as a whole.

Throughout the book, he strongly drives home the point that the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation must be freed from the clutches of the enemies of growth and fair competition and allowed to flourish so that India does not lose so heavily at the cost of greedy politicians and their vested interests.

The book has a foreword by noted social commentator, columnist and author Suhel Seth, who asserts that the book is a great read not only for our budding entrepreneurs and innovators, but for all those who want to understand what went wrong with a success story called FTIL and the immense value of IP-based institutions of global scale and how they were crookedly demolished.

Rita Joseph is a New Delhi-based journalist who has worked for the Press Trust of India and as features editor of The Statesman, an English-language daily newspaper in India. She writes for media outlets in India and the United States, including Matters India, a top news portal that collaborates with GSR and focuses on religious and social issues.

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