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Raghav Bahl and the depressing jugaad of Indian journalism

Dance like no one’s watching, Sing like no one’s listening, and Write articles in the mainstream media like no one’s fact-checking: This seems to be the modern mantra. And one devout follower of this mantra is Shri Raghav Bahl, founder of the Bloomberg-Quint, an Indian online “Business and Financial” site, in tie-up with the worldwide giant Bloomberg. Bahl displays his fact-free lifestyle in a particularly obtuse piece titled: PM Modi, Demonetisation ‘Brahmastra’ Could’ve Avoided Hurting Poor

As is fashionable these days, the piece starts with an example of the quintessential maid, who is dumb enough to be conned into giving her Rs 5000 (in notes of Rs 500) to some “friend” shopkeeper for just 5 notes of Rs 100. Maybe this maid studied at FTII, but I have 2 maids (house-helps to be politically correct) at home and 1 at work; and all 3 of them knew exactly what was going on. Hope this maid of Bahl’s fantasies isnt like one of those fake “gau rashaks attacked me” stories.

Bahl’s entire article argues that the government should have given time to people till 31st December. That may sound so good given the reports about inconvenience people are facing due to long queues at banks. But Bahl himself agrees that giving this time could have given an escape route to people with unaccounted cash, who could have indulged in some deals to turn that cash into white money or legal assets. Now they can’t deal with that cash as it’s no longer a legal tender.

So what exactly is Bahl’s point? He essentially says that people can still do some “jugaad” and convert their unaccounted cash into white money. He offers ridiculously simplistic explanations (actually there are no explanations, just fantastical stories) in his article as how this jugaad can happen. If only real life was so simple as if playing a video game with cheat code.

In this video game that Bahl is playing through his article, there is a character called “Rambhai”, the quintessential corrupt businessman. Before we get to how Rambhai actually manages to get rid of his ill-gotten cash through jugaad, let us study his character, through Bahl’s own words:

“At 8 pm on 8 November, Rambhai would have finished a greasy vegetarian meal and settled down to listen to his hero, Prime Minister Modi’s specially televised address.”

You say it best when you say nothing at all Raghav-bhai. What Bahl wanted to say was Rambhai was a Hindu, high-caste Gujju (hence vegetarian), possible gau-sevak, corrupt Modi bhakt, but wrapped it in euphemisms like “Ram” bhai, and “vegetarian meal”.

Now that we know Bahl’s Rambhai, let us enter Bahl’s cuckoo world where all laws cease to exist and only jugaad (which he never cares to explain) reins.

So Rambhai apparently has Rs 1 crore in unaccounted cash, which he has to finish before the deadline of midnight 8th November. How does he do it? Simply pays Rs 60 lakhs to a goldsmith (Shyambhai) for buying gold at 8.45 pm, and subsequently, at an undisclosed time, pays Rs 40 lakhs to a Tata Motors dealer for a sparkling new Jaguar XF.

Forget about the gold for a bit and let’s talk about the Jaguar. In Bahl’s world, Tata Motor’s showrooms are open beyond 8.45 pm at night. Nonetheless, I checked up with the local Mercedes showroom for the procedure to buy a car. They said irrespective of my mode of payment, I would need to submit my PAN. Why, because a PAN is mandatory while buying or selling a four-wheeler that requires registration under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, irrespective of its value. PAN is also mandatory for all transactions above Rs 2 lakhs. And more recently, there is a levy of 1% TCS on sale of all motor vehicles costing over Rs 10 lakhs, which again entails a declaration of PAN.

How does Raghav-bhai imagine Rambhai will avoid all this reporting? Jugaad. Yes, he says that the local auto dealer of Tata Motors would do some “usual jugaad”.

So is Raghav-bhai suggesting that Tata Motors would sell a luxury car worth Rs 40 lakhs without an invoice? And would account for this mysterious disappearance of inventory by claiming “Modiji ne kiya hai”? Or does he suggest Tata Motors does not maintain documentation for purchases and the entire product chain, which is why it is so simple for them to do this magical “jugaad”? Maybe this is why Mistry was sacked then?

Since there was no explanation or hint of this jugaad, I tried to hazard a guess; maybe the dealer puts a dummy guy’s PAN. Cash from Rambhai but PAN of Laxmanbhai (why should only Bahl create characters?). But even in that case, the dealer has to register the car in Rambhai’s name only. So again, it will be a mismatch and this jugaad can easily be spotted as fraud by authorities.

So there is no explanation of how this “usual” jugaad is happening, but we are supposed to believe that it is happening. Going further, Raghav-bhai mentions that “Rs 40 lakh of black money has made its way into the Tata Motors’ balance sheet”, so how does this exactly work? Tata Motors dealer doesn’t do any documentation which incriminates Rambhai, YET, the money is reflected in Tata Motors accounts. Super-Jugaad this.

At this point I was reminded of a post that I saw on Facebook by one of my friends. He claimed that some bankers were taking “cut” of 10% and converting unaccounted cash into white money. How? In the same Facebook post he claimed that he doesn’t know how, but this is happening. I laughed at such rumor mongering, but now I think he should be hired by Raghav Bahl as a senior correspondent at The Quint. He can also drop words like cut and jugaad without any explanation. Poor guy is writing Facebook posts when he could have written editorials.

Coming back to the Bahl’s Rambhai, he gets a car and gold and apparently all his accounted cash is now white, because taxmen are blind not to see a luxury car or glitter of gold. Yes, in Bahl’s story, Rambhai is all cool and safe. Now the story moves to Shyambhai, the person who sold gold to Rambhai and is saddled with the cash now.

How does Shyambhai get rid of this cash in Raghav-bhai’s wonderful lala land? He buys a Harley, an iPhone and an “Italian Jacuzzi”. And just like that Shyambhai’s problems are over too. But what about the sellers of these goods, the other “bhais”? How do they account for this sudden cash without raising invoices in the name of Shyambhai? Unless Multinational companies like Harley Davidson and Apple also practice the “Tata Motors Jugaad” of not maintaining records yet adding to their topline?

But this is the example of just one Rambhai, what about the millions of such Rambhais? Well, Raghav-bhai has an answer for that too:

“They will round up 1 crore poor, unemployed people all over the country, especially in small towns and far-flung villages. For 50 mornings, these 1 crore people will throng banks and post offices, depositing cash in small quantities in their hitherto unused Jan Dhan accounts. Each will deposit an average of Rs 3 lakh, until Rs 3 lakh crore are in the bank.”

Of course, rounding up 1 crore poor people and ensuring 100% secrecy and privacy for such dealings is so easy in the video game real world. I mean if the “Tata Motors Jugaad” is doable, why not this? It’s not as if the Government can not trace and monitor this sudden spurt in Jan Dhan Accounts now, can it?

Jan Dhan
In a parallel universe

And that is how Indians like Rambhai and Shyambhai would have made their way around Modi’s seemingly impregnable plan. So easy no? And with that, Raghav-bhai proves that while corrupts like Rambhai and Shyambhai are all cool and safe, the poor and honest are inconvenienced by standing in queues and struggling for ready cash.

And why is this all believable? Because the learned Raghav Bahl wrote this all while chewing on his beef steak after signing a petition for PETA (hey, even I can hazard a guess on Raghav-bhai’s dietary habits going by his world view right?). And of course because no Government or media body would ever dare take any sort of action an any of the highly misleading content. Why? Because then Raghav-bhai would scream “Emergency”.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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