Every year, the night before Republic Day festivities start, the government comes out with the annual list of Padma awardees — artistes, academicians, social workers, public servants, and businessmen. About a week before the list is announced, inquisitive businessmen begin to sniff around if their names are on it. A Padma award, after all, adds greatly to a businessman’s prestige. Walk into the office of anybody who’s got it and you won’t miss his picture with the President.
Elsewhere, in cosy clubs and drawing rooms, each name is dissected threadbare by those who didn’t get it. The key numbers — return on capital employed, share price et al — are painfully collected, minutely debated and summarily dismissed. The heartburn is enough to set all the holy rivers of the country on fire. This time was no different. “Can you tell me what he has done in life?” This is a question I have ducked at least a half-a-dozen times ever since the list came out.
Rewarding businessmen has been a long tradition in the country. In the pre-Independence days, the government used to dole out knighthoods to businessmen regularly. For the lesser businessmen, there were titles like Rai Bahadur.
In the thick of the Second World War, around the time Mahatma Gandhi had launched the Quit India movement, the government made Lala Shri Ram of DCM a knight. Overnight, he became Sir Shri Ram. True, he had started from scratch and built a large business empire of textiles, sugar, engineering goods and potteries; but the purpose of the knighthood was not lost on many. The freedom movement was strong and it needed businessmen on its side so that supplies could be reached the armed forces in remote frontiers without any hindrance. Lala Shri Ram was a leading manufacturer of textiles. The government had no choice but to keep itself in his good books.
Is the same principle still at work? Political parties do need huge funds to contest elections, the cap on expenses fixed by the Election Commission notwithstanding. And it is an open secret that much of this money comes from corporations. Many of them disclose in their profit-and-loss statement donations made to all political parties. Still, there needs to be transparency in the Padma awards. What makes the wise men on the Padma committee choose one businessman over the other?
Raju was the 2007 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for his business acumen and his efforts to service the community. Other recipients of the award included names like Mukesh Ambani, Kumarmangalam Birla, Sunil Mittal and N R Narayanamurthy. In fact, Raju went on to represent India at the global edition of the award at picturesque Monte Carlo. For three days, he rubbed shoulders with the best from the world of business, though he failed to bag the final honour. (The only Indian to have won at Monte Carlo is Narayanamurthy.)
As late as in September 2008, Satyam had won the coveted Golden Peacock Global Award for Excellence in Corporate Governance for 2008 at the Ninth International Conference on Corporate Governance held in London. “It is a testament to our efforts to continually innovate and advance corporate governance best practices in our industry and around the world,” Satyam CFO Srinivas Vadlamani was quoted as saying. Everything came crashing down when Raju confessed his crime in the early days of January 2009.