Leading the downfall of many an empire of deceit- the Sucheta Dalal files

sucheta dalal

In a modern world increasingly marked by financial irregularities and imbalances on the money front that has spelled a world of defaulters the likes of which are a certain Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi still exhibited in a grandiose perception that defines their ironic larger than life stature, it is appalling- but not at the least surprising, that for a country like India that has been scandalized with many multi crore scams, our interest is often piqued by the mere mention of these ‘celebrity’ criminals. Not capturing as much part of our fancy however are such minds residing in curiosity who helped unearth the vast ugly world of those fiddling with the moolah, despite the fact that it is they who are the heroes deserving to be known by the masses. In however our obsession with glorifying the faces sitting on a body of money, even when it is obtained as illicitly as possible, what we are left with is a knowledge of the happenings that appeal to us far greater than the conscientious yet risky exploration of the truth that has been draining the resources of our country and therefore the welfare of us its people, while still not resisting the urge to make a uninformed comment here and a casual one there whenever the notoriety of it catches up to all discussions in the public sphere in all its fancy.

Emerging as one such rather phenomenal individual of not just foresight but also courage and zeal who make up today for a story of modern India that isn’t exactly the kind of identity you want to associate your nation with is a lady of tremendous substance who has been lauded and celebrated over the years in her unprecedented triumph with a truth the starkness of which still is stupendous enough to have you shaking your head in disbelief, but the popularity of which in the public circles still falls short of the magnitude of fame commanded instead by the mastermind whom she helped bring to book. We are talking here to the epic saga of the 1992 Indian stock market scam that which brought to fore the actual face of a man heralded as the “Amitabh Bachchan of the Stock market”. In unearthing the unpopular image of a public figure so looked upto in the India of the early 90’s, Sucheta Dalal did indeed create a definition of herself that went beyond her identity as yet another journalist who however concentrated on showcasing the truth, rather than sensationalizing it. As the name who helped lay bare the money laundering scam lurking in the shadows of Harshad Mehta, the Big Bull of the stock market of an India immediately after it opened up its economy, Dalal however should have commanded greater reputation and recognition that what one of her most famous revelation does.

The exposing of the heavily fraudulent practices of Mehta in what is widely considered the biggest money market scam ever committed in India however isn’t the only high voltage discovery that a rather curious Dalal went on to pursue in her rather distinguished career as a business journalist. Also unravelling similar financial ambiguities on the part of Mumbai stockbroker Ketan Parekh that led to the 2001 stock market crash was this lady with a sensibility not innate to all even in her field of work. More than perhaps being an insight into the reputation of her caliber as a journalist committed to bring out murky facts, it was more the determination and conviction of Sucheta Dalal that had her persisting in treading the road less taken. In also being able to counter the financial mess that had come to concern such institutions as the Industrial Development Bank of India and her uncovering of the NSE co-location scam, the DHFL scam, as well as several other similar security market frauds simply by paying attention to the glaring irregularities that had come to rule the proceedings therein, Dalal might have been able to project herself as one of the most poring minds in the world of Indian journalism but beyond her repertoire of skills that made her the singular force driving a whole world of shady dealings to doom, it also has been her zeal to inspire a change by being an agent of it in her own right that makes her so inspiring and unconventional a figure in this realm of seeking out the real and bringing it to the public as and how it is.

Indeed for Sucheta Dalal, what made her efforts matter is the courage she possessed to ask the questions that nobody else dared to pose, even when she was met with such resistance that could have destroyed her very person. In fact, it was in going after the wolfs of Dalal Street that Dalal discovered her limits- or the lack thereof- as an investigative journalist. Pondering over such facets of luxury that which had come to define the lifestyle of these many a big names and that which were still largely conspicuous despite the enormous worth the biggies were publicly celebrated for flaunting, Dalal had suspicions mount onto her as to the credibility of their fortune that which could afford them such extravagance, over the top even by their almost celebrity status. With Harshad Mehta, what struck Sucheta Dalal as an extraordinarily lavish squandering of wealth was his possession of such elite cars as the Lexus Starlet, Toyota Corolla, and Toyota Sera – each of which was extremely rare with the Lexus LS400 even being the only one in India. The march forward of course was never going to be easy for the lady as she had stumbled upon the chink in the armour of who was at that time a public figure commanding not just adulation but also immense trust of the people. With a rags to riches story to back him in stellar measure, Mehta was a man comfortably reclining in his cushion of money backed power. And yet Dalal had in her a vision that enabled to pore deep into the man’s clever play with the bucks, bringing to light therefore a play of pretense no doubt but most importantly, also forcing a complete structural change of the financial security system of India through a slew of reforms in stock transactions.

With Ketan Parekh, Dalal was no less intrigued. As a close confidante of Mehta himself, Parekh gave her already perhaps scope for some doubt. But what emerged to be quite phenomenal on part of the acclaimed journalist that Sucheta Dalal had come to be was a contemplation of his source of income, or rather the lack of it, following which his ability to guarantee repayment of the money owed to the market entities did not go down easily with her. As Dalal continued with what could very well have been a wild goose chase, she tumbled upon such facts and figures that which became very legitimate grounds of Parekh’s conviction. In the years that followed, Sucheta Dalal continued on her giant hunting spree, with such unraveling of stinking riches that rattled an entire nation of commoners who till then had been looking up to these money minters of the financial world.

What helped Sucheta Dalal emerge as the mind behind digging out the reality of such scams that towers over even the most recent and most staggering of financial launderings is indeed her roots in journalism. Born in Mumbai, Dalal did her schooling from St Joseph’s convent school Belagavi in Karnataka for 3 years and later pre university from RLS College there. After pursuing her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Statistics, Dalal proceeded to study law and gained her LL.B and LL.M degrees from Bombay University. While it might have been her training in law studies that helped Sucheta Dalal look so deep into the circumstances that led her to unearth more than a couple of financial scams of unprecedented magnitude, it still is her identity as a journalist that led her on in this daunting task of unmasking the behemoths of the money business. Starting off with a job in 1984 in the investment magazine Fortune India, Dalal later went on to work in news companies like Business Standard and The Economic Times. It however has been her stint as a journalist for The Times of India in their business and economic wing since the early 1990s that heralded for the eagle eyed Sucheta Dalal a world of such possibilities that remained carefully shielded from public scrutiny. Not just for herself however, Dalal’s embarking on this path hitherto undiscovered, at least in the Indian context set also the motion for investigative journalism to make deeper entrenches in the country for which she also has come to be decorated with numerous prestigious awards. A Padma Shri awardee in 2006 as well as the recipient of the the Chameli Devi Award instituted by the Media Foundation for excellence in journalism, Sucheta Dalal’s breakthrough with the Harshad Mehta case also saw her being awarded the Femina’s Woman of Substance Award by the Times group’s women’s magazine. Interestingly, it was through admissions made during an interview of the then chairman of SBI with the Times of India that gave Dalal a greater insight into how Mehta had been able of exercising such control over the financial market of that time. Her chronicle of the high profile case finds extensive detailing in a book titled The Scam: Who Won, who Lost, who Got Away that Dalal co- authored with fellow journalist and husband Debashis Basu. Currently the managing editor of the Moneylife magazine started by Basu, Dalal has also been a Member of the Investor Protection and Education Fund set up by the Government of India under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs for six years since 2011 apart from being a member of the Primary Market Advisory Committee of the Securities and Exchange Board of India. A Trustee of the Consumer Education and Research Centre of Ahmedabad and a member of the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), it however is more than just the work ethics of Sucheta Dalal rooted in truth that makes her unlike any journalist that the country has come to boast of. With a strong belief in being the change herself, Dalal’s commitment to not just her profession but also her country and its people is what has been driving her to relentlessly strive for a clean and honest society. Taking the onus on herself to cater to such principles of journalism that has her presenting just undistorted facts through insightful analysis, high research, and groundbreaking news stories, Sucheta Dalal indeed is the one India needs to idolise and glamorise as well for dethroning the many (Har)shady Big Bulls draining the common masses of the country.