Book review #Four of 2021: Feast for Vultures

It is easy to get anything done in India provided you know whom to contact with how much money.

I had heard Josy Joseph on TedxGateway in 2016 and his talk was gut wrenching and so is no holds barred book investigating the dirty mafia of politicians and industrialist nexus.  While, the book may seem to be as a guide on how to do business in India, it is actually a hard-hitting dossier of challenges and struggles of doing business. The author does not hold back in naming names of top Industrialist like Naresh Goyal, Jindal and Ambani and how they have “gamed” the system.  Also, a very detailed work on defense sector which has rocked many governments. 

One of the key takeaways for me to understand is that while the rise and fall of some people and industrialist can be charted with their association to a political party/leader. The biggest industrialist are the ones who game the system across political parties, for they know politicians are only loyal to money.  Naresh Goyal was one of them.

While, I have been an Equity Analyst – I would have liked to be ideally an activist Analyst.  An equity analyst job has so many encumbrances that it is impossible to do a fair / unbiased job. However, I am proud to say that I had over the years gained the notoriety of being an activist and was not welcomed by few corporates.  When I quizzed one of my peers why does other analyst not asks difficult question in conference calls – the analyst was quick to retort that they left the dirty work for me. (one of my prized compliments I have ever received).  My bosses received many complaints from corporates but they did not reprimand me.  The only time I was asked to however oblige was in the case of “Deccan chronicle” on while I had written a SELL report questioning “Cash” – I was asked to drop coverage of the stock as a middle path given the noise of the report has reached the top offices of the ICICI bank and was damaging business. Though I was free to speak at will. After reading the book, I am inspired to write a very detailed note on my experience with Deccan chronicle. 

The book clearly documents the path of corruption taken by many industrialists and most of the names are easy to guess. While these industrialists might today be in regular news for achieving some much of market capitalization, almost everyone knows the path has been a sinister one. After reading the book, my respect for industrialist like Narayan Murthy, Azim Premji, Anand Mahindra and Uday Kotak jumps manifolds who at least I think are the most ethical.   

The Author does a very detailed work on Naresh Goyal and Jet airways during its Initial years.  The Beauty of the rise of Naresh Goyal rise was that he did great in all political regimes. In India, it does not matter which party is in power, if you know the right hands to grease. Also, this book should be read along with Vinod rai – Ex CAG book “Not just an accountant” which does a similar job in showcasing corruption.  

One of the best incidents noted in the report is about Anurag thakur – the minister for state for corporate officers.  Anurag Thakur played a Ranji Trophy match against Jammu & Kashmir in November 2000 when he was the president of HPCA. He has played one match in first-class cricket representing Himachal Pradesh and leading the team as captain in a match against Jammu and Kashmir in the 2000/2001 season. He picked himself for the match so as to fulfill the BCCI criterion (to have at least one first-class match experience) for becoming a selector at the state level. He appointed himself as the chairman of selectors of HPCA Ranji trophy cricket team. He later became BCCI President only to be Sacked by Supreme court.

This is a hard-hitting book and will leave you with anguish and anger.  However, every investor should read this book, so he knows for life which stocks and companies to avoid. 

Quotes / Notes from the book:

In 2009, a planning commission of India study of the distribution of subsidized food items through Public distribution system found that only 16 paise out of a rupee reached the targetter poor.   (In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi said 15 paise reached the poor – A increase of only 1 paise in 25 years)

I have to be forever on the right side of the people, It’s not always easy.  – A middleman

CBI is often called DDT – The department of Dirty tricks.

Ratan Tata in 2010 – We approached 3 prime ministers. But an individual thwarted our efforts …. I happened to be on a flight once and another industrialist said to me: I don’t understand. you people are stupid. you know the minister wants 15crores. So why don’t you pay it?

PS: The cheat code for beating target of reading books is first pick up easy to read 200 odd pages books. Over to some bulky ones now.

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