Satyam – a symptom, not the problem

Saswat Pattanayak

When Enron conveniently declared its bankruptcy in 2001, it not only resulted in rendering more than 5000 employees jobless, and relegating more than $1billion in employee retirement funds to vacuum, but the corporation also succeeded in eventually evading recovery of more than $40 billion of its assets. Enron’s corruption was neither pathbreaking nor unique. Financial bunglings are necessary features of market capitalism resulting in widespread unemployment, continuation of class society and dependence of world majority on the corporate minority.

All criticisms being hurled at Ramalinga Raju – the disgraced former boss of India’s leading software giant Satyam – is pure travesty. The fact is Raju is merely unlucky, and in this present instance, a victim of his beleaguered conscience that arose too late. For, his scandal is neither as consequential as Enron’s, nor as dangerously implicit as PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Any focus on eliminating Raju and his business from the world capitalistic map only shall help strengthen the businesses of his former rivals. Reducing India’s largest financial scam to the alter of accusations against one man merely shall undermine the necessity to examine the canons of capitalism.

Raju’s attempts at salvaging his son’s companies have nothing to do with personal corruption scandals. It has to do with the very nature of how “free market” capitalism works. The same investors who objected to the $1.6 billion scam orchestrated by Raju were the ones who have been supporting him throughout the series of deception, fraud and financial misappropriations committed by Satyam over the years. The same auditors – PricewaterhouseCoopers – who have suddenly hogged the headline for the wrongdoings have been heralded by Market Capitalism as one of its most informed wings. The corporate media conglomerates that are now singling out Raju as the fraud that deserves jail term are the gatekeepers of news and opinion that had been awarding Raju variously, including as “Corporate Citizen of the Year” (by CNBC in 2002). Not just the endorsement of PricewaterhouseCoopers, even its rival – the other big financial auditor – Ernst & Young has only recently bestowed upon Raju the award of “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” (in 2007).

If the world has been forced to embrace market capitalism as the dominant economic base, the superstructure for such foundation has comprised investors, auditors, deregulators, and the corporate bosses. In case of Satyam Computers Services, all these elements have been exposed threadbare. And this is hardly the first instance of corruption in capitalism. Quite the contrary, corruption is inherent in capitalism, in its essence of profit drives at the cost of ethical responsibilities, in its essence of satisfying investors at the cost of customers, in its essence of exploiting workforce at the cost of amassing disproportionate wealth.

The market economy approach which India has embraced necessarily must produce Harshad Mehtas and Ramalinga Rajus. Any elements of surprise speaks to the lack of confidence in understanding of capitalism’s contradictions. A free-for-all umbrella must cloud the levels of competition and turn them instead into monopolistic collaborations among giants. Giants who must exhibit their capability to stay in top (or, perish) must necessarily employ unlawful, illicit and unethical means to hoodwink the consumers, clients and society at large.

What Raju has resorted to is not a sign of failure in his conscience. Rather, what most of the media are perceiving in his character of late is a failure on their part to understand how capitalism functions. This is what Fidel Castro calls “Economic Illiteracy” prevailing in the present age.

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