Learning from Vadra-DLF: Beware of your friends

L’affaire Vadra will, no doubt, occupy our attention till such time as there is a bigger story to tell.

As this is written, both Vadra and DLF have ‘defended’ their positions, but that doesn’t seem to cut much ice.

“The alibi that DLF trots out on behalf of itself and Vadra to defend their land dealings rings untrue. It hardly seems “standard business practice” for DLF to pay up to nearly 90 percent of the property transaction value to Vadra’s company as an “advance” – and for that amount to remain listed on Vadra’s company’s balance sheet for two years and more as an “advance”, Firstpost's Venky Vembu wrote this morning.

But is the Vadra story a story at all? In June this year, I had written, “Rajat Gupta is no criminal, he’s just an Indian.”

Better to stay enemies than friends. Reuters

“Gupta could spend as many as 20-25 years in jail. But for what? For leaking confidential information?! Many thousands of kilometres away, in India, many of us are bemused by the accusations and the conviction. A man goes to jail because he shared information with a friend? By that yardstick, half of India would be in jail,” I had said.

It’s no different with the favours Vadra might or might not have done for DLF. Being ‘nice’ to people in power is commonplace in India. Take, for example, the IPL. The BCCI and the sponsors dole out VVIP passes to, er, VVIPs, such as government servants, senior executives one does business with or proposes to do business with, journalists of all hue, and so on.

Getting a flat allotted under the discretionary quota of governments is commonplace too, and beneficiaries will include kith, kin and friends of politicians from all sides of the political divide, as the Adarsh scam has underlined. The same is true, as we know from the irrigation scam that is unfolding in Maharashtra, of tenders with an element of discretion built in.

Some of these will have a direct quid pro quo involved – and many will not. For example, expensive gifts presented at weddings and religious functions would be ‘gestures of goodwill’ as opposed to a bribe. Invitations to prestigious events, even prestigious seats at prestigious events might fall into a ‘relationship-building exercise’ rather than as a bribe with a quid pro quo.

Discounts to ‘special’ people, too, are decidedly Indian, and there is no doubt that Vadra is special.

What IAC and Kejriwal have done with Vadra is just the beginning. There will be more revelations of gifts and favour-seekers, of companies and individuals who have been helpful to ‘friends’.

What Kejriwal has done, as Venky Vembu put it  is to break the ‘Omerta’ code of silence when it comes to naming (and attempting to shame) those in proximity to those in power in politics.

Once the Omerta code is broken by whistle-blowers and politicians, the flood-gates open – because the media is forced to play up and amplify the news. There are just too many news outlets to control if one wants to prevent the news from being aired and discussed.

And, thanks to Kejriwal and his ilk, those who have access to news of other suspect ‘friendships’ have been shown how to do the same. There is no holy cow any more.

Once upon a time in India, the quality of such ‘friendships’ would be measured by how much you could help each other profit from friendships. Today, as Vadra and DLF are learning, such friendships could lead to your Waterloo.

Perhaps it’s time to distance yourself from one’s friends, rather than from one’s enemies.

Updated Date: Oct 08, 2012 12:40 PM

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