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Can you become rich in India without stealing?

Mommy says no!

Can you become rich in India sans a skeleton in the cupboard?
Can I have all this without a few skeletons peeping out of my cupboard?

Infact, this was one of the arguments she gave to dissuade me from becoming an entrepreneur, way back, when I was within dissuasion. Like any dutiful son hell bent on changing the world, I of course, didn’t listen to her.

But even after all these years, the argument is not yet settled. It keeps coming back. Whenever she gets something that can be used to support her case, she dispatches it in my direction.

The latest example she threw at me was Subrat Roy Sahara being quizzed on Rs 24,000 Crores.

Now, both you and I know the drill. The process of law is on and you can’t jump to conclusions. I told her so.

However, when it takes 15 years to frame charges against Salman Khan and 31 years for an IAS daughter to get a guilty verdict from the Sessions Court against her father’s killers (the High Court and the Supreme Court are still left, link here), the legal process argument loses most of its fizz.

Truth may be anything but a first generation big shot getting accused of serious investor fraud by a statutory body like SEBI only strengthens the idea: This guy became rich, this guy stole too.

I of course, stand my ground, “It IS possible, that’s what I am betting on”, trying hard not to sound like a teenage rebel whose communist hero on the Tshirt has just been caught in bed with capitalist imperialists.

Who drives the Pajeros in Noida, Ghaziabad? The Land Rovers, the Range Rovers, the BMWs, the Endeavors, the Fortuners?

Any of the IIT, IIM type corporate honchos? Any of the IT entrepreneurs? Or white kurta clad politicians, builders, wheeler dealers and their cronies?

Hmmm, something like, if you want to check the nature of the soil, see what plants flourish there? Know the character of the pond by the weeds that bloom in it.

Yes, exactly. What kind of plants flourish in the soil that is India today?

Prosperity is reaching nooks and corners of the country but almost every village seems to have one family which rises way faster than every other. NREGA and village level development schemes have only speeded up the rise of the pradhan families.

Every city, including the really godforsaken ones would have a few families with huge mansions floored with expensive marble tiles housing the snazziest SUVs. The rest of the city would either make do with government jobs or small time trading or petty private jobs. Even if there is no industry or major economic activity in the city, a couple of families seem to have access to a perpetual fountain of financial gangotri! More often than not, you’d find top functionaries of all political parties distributed amongst these families.

It doesn’t technically prove that you can’t become rich in India without stealing. It does indicate most of those who did well in one generation did stuff that middle class morality fed on eighties Amitabh would not allow.

That we have more Ponty Chadhas than Narayanmurthys doesn’t help either.

And damn that Kejriwal dude. Ambanis had never smelt of pure jasmine, he put the stink to the DLF story as well with his Vadra disclosures.

Where are the clean heroes? Where are the straight guy stories?

I am sure they are there. I feel most of the stories in the tech-internet enabled “new age” businesses are clean stories. But they are much less in number than “5 years in politics” or “7 years of wheeling-dealing” stories and they are not visible in Sitapur, Saharsa and Siliguri. That’s where bulk of India’s “high energy youth which China doesn’t have” demographic dividend comes from.

Mommy’s argument was simple enough. Since she hasn’t seen anyone become super rich without stealing so it’s impossible to do so. With uber-capitalistic American dream off the menu, there was only one option for me – be a good boy, write the exam, become an officer and live with the stick of the government in my hands.

I don’t blame her. Mommies have their own agendas. They don’t want their sons to fight too hard, struggle much or change the world.

But what does an ambitious, energetic twenty year old in a mofussil town see today?

Narayanmurthy and Bhikchandani are stars in the sky; Murthy, a friendly uncle in the stories and Bhikchandani, a stud IIMA entrepreneur. Other worldly characters even for those who have heard about them in small towns and villages. That bastard in the white Scorpio who picked petty street-fights only 2 years ago is as real as the cloud of dust his tinted glass car leaves in your face. His prosperity is spilling all over what with gold chains, new cars, scores of hangers-on, road construction contracts and an engineering college to boot.

The guys who steal, flourish. And they are everywhere. In every city, town and village. Purely statistically, becoming one of these is many times easier than becoming a Bhikchandani. And one doesn’t even need to understand the esoteric dynamics of web enabled information handshake business.

Is there a viable path-to-prosperity sans thievery for the bulk of the youth? Or is the rather simplistic notion that to become rich in India, you either don a white kurta or jump in the pockets of those already in white kurtas – the real wala truth?

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