Mainstream, VOL LVI No 11 New Delhi March 3, 2018
Bank Scam: The Oldest and the Newest
Monday 5 March 2018, by#socialtags
About 178 years ago, Calcutta saw the first bank scam of the subcontinent. A duo comprising one Raj Kishore Datta and his son-in-law, Dwarka Nath Mitra, plundered a bank which, interestingly, was founded by the father-in-law himself. Author Shib Chunder Bose, in his The Hindoos As They Are (published in 1881), documented this pioneering loot. He was, however, ashamed to furnish the full list of the glowing accomplices and accompanists in the crime. He, of course, hinted that a combination was formed among a few influential natives, whose names “I am ashamed to mention and a well concocted system of fraud was organised”. To highlight his social class, noted he, Raj Kishore Datta was “a very respectable Hindoo gentleman” of Calcutta. This alluring coat of social respectability protected a certain class against exposures of disgraceful crimes committed by them. A privilege not many enjoy!
Combination of Uncle and Nephew of Gujarat: Modern-day avatars of Calcutta Lootera
The feat has been repeated by another duo comprising Nirav Modi and his uncle, Mehul Choksi. But they targeted India’s nationalised banks, considering them perhaps safer as target and more vulnerable. The conspirators of Calcutta, Raj Kishore Datta and Dwarka Nath Mitra, had no safety-valve in place during the colonial era, an advantage their twentyfirst century avatars covertly, if not overtly, have in place for protection and rescue in case of intervention from the administration, legislature, and judiciary. They rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty in public on camera. Their closeness with the powers that be off camera is better left to the imagination.
(His) story of the first bank scam committed in or around 1840 is illuminating. Raj Kishore Datta, who lived in Calcutta, was, as already noted, a very respectable Hindu gentleman and “a great devotee” of goddess Kali. His greatness was exhibited in his liberality of the money he spent on the puja of the deity. Every month, on the last of the dark night of the moon (amavasya) he (Datta) used to set up an image of this goddess, costing a sum of one thousand rupees. His other expenses on the occasion soared to another six or seven thousand for gold and silver ornaments which, of course, went to benefit “the officiating priests”. On the occasion of the annual puja in the month of Kartik, he gave “the goddess a gold tongue and decorated her four arms with diverse gold ornaments to the cost of about three thousand”. Raj Kishore was a very calculative and sleek operator with perfect worldly wisdom. To establish his image as unsuspicious and impenetrable in the public and in his own class, he continued to exhibit his devotion for goddess Kali in “magnificent style”—his veneration becoming “more intensified as his wealth increased”. In truth, his display of wealth and riches reached the level of vulgarity around the Kali puja.
What were the Secrets of his Opulence?
Raj Kishore Datta established a bank in Calcutta, called The India Bank which, according to a cryptic account recorded by Bose, “circulated notes of its own to a considerable amount. A combination was formed among a few influential natives, whose names I am ashamed to mention, and a well concocted system of fraud was organised. Through one Dwarkey Nath Mitter, a son-in-law of Raj Kishore, company’s paper or government securities to the amount of about twenty lakhs of rupees were forged and passed off as genuine on the public.” The secret of the first bank fraud was, incidentally, leaked by a notorious dacoit, Raghu, in course of confession to his investigators. “But as fraud succeeds for a short while, the gigantic scheme was soon discovered and the delinquent was tried, convicted and sentenced to transportation for life to one of the Penal Settlements of the East India Company where he lived for several years to rue the consequences of his iniquitous conduct.” The British did not spare Raj Kishore Datta but are we sure the same fate will befall his successors in the similar bank scam?
Bose rightly concluded the story by stating that Raj Kishore Datta’s “flagitious career commenced by blind devotion to his guardian deity, culminated in a gigantic forgery, and closed with transportation and infamy”. Stories of supernatural power of deities to bestow benediction of grotesque dimension on people in hours of grim emergencies owe to scheming priests who defraud and exploit unsuspecting numberless people. This has repeatedly been proved. Modis, Choksis, Mallyas have, on the contrary, discovered that instead of deities, the political strongmen were more effective in giving them much needed relief if they paid the requisite price.
The Indian banking industry has suffered a tsunami engineered by the pair comprising chacha-bhatija, Nirav and Mehul. But they knew that it was not the fictitious deities but the political supermen who were capable of providing them the escape route as and when in need. A brewery owner and airline operator frequented Tirupati and donated gold bricks and huge currencies to the deity there. His empire of business crushed out nonetheless.
A fertile land of the dishonest rich, India is also a country of the honest poor. We have recently known that 73 per cent of India’s wealth is held by one per cent of Indians! These rich men have exploited India’s wealth with financial institutions at their beck and call. And the government routinely wrote off their bad debts in tens of thousands of crores. A few days back the PTI told us that India is more corrupt than China. But Transparency International has cheered them by informing that Indians were less “corrupt than Pakistan”.
The rich are not only corrupt, they are depraved also. To fleece the poor and middle class, they suffer no qualms of conscience. They unhesitat-ingly plunder the government and get free passage, arranged, more often than not, by agencies of the same government, to fly out to safe havens in salubrious hemisphere to live happily ever after beyond the reach of the country’s long arm of law. To them India is hell to live, heaven to loot. They are enemies of the nation. But the rulers do not charge them as anti-nationals and infidels. Rather, they are found in the warm embrace of these enemies of the nation.
India takes pride over moral values, ethical standards, cultural heritage, ancient civilisation, etc. But the same holy land has also given birth to the Hindu Nadir Shah in the form of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, who have plundered the very soul of India and her proud plank. Invader Nadir Shah came from Persia, sacked Delhi, and plundered priceless jewels, including Koh-i-Noor and Darya-i-Noor, besides the Peacock Throne from a weak emperor, Muhammad Shah. Our present rulers boast to be powerful and brave. Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya are beyond their reach to bring them to justice. A few generations later India may find all doors shut on her face for fear of the Modis, the Choksis, the Mallyas and their compatriots spelling disaster in their foreign shelters by their homegrown skills of loot and scoot there too. The Ganga and the Yamuna of moral pollution will then flow across the globe from India and sweep them off their feet! We can only imagine: what a day ahead!
[Note: Source material for the article has been drawn from S. C. Bose, The Hindoos As They Are, Newman & Co, Calcutta, 1881.]
A retired IAS officer and former Vice-Chancellor, B R Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, the author can be reached at anwesan4[at]gmail.com for comments and observations, if any.