Was it Mohit Bhalla of The Economic Times who set the stage more than a month ago, on December 18, 2018, by reporting on “Nityank”, a company that deposited and withdrew “over Rs 3,000 crore of cash during or after
Or, was it the more detailed reports in The Wire, by Ghulam Shaik Budan and Anuj Srivas, of January 24 that did it (this, and this)? Obviously, given its proximity to the meltdown on D-street, Wire gets the bragging rights.
However, in his apology, Chandra blames “negative forces” acting against his company from much earlier than the ET or Wire stories.
“From May / June 2018 onwards a negative force which was acting against our grip as promoters became strongly active. This was followed by some anonymous letters being sent to all Bankers, NBFCs, Mutual Funds, Shareholders, etc….
“I must also mention that there is no systematic protection against the insidious attack on us by the mentioned negative forces, but we will continue to seek the support of the system in order to thoroughly investigate the matter.”
For its part, Economic Times graciously acknowledges that the “immediate trigger” for the sharp drop in share prices of Zee Enterprises (which fell over 26%) and Dish TV (33%) and Essel Propack (16%) appeared to be The Wire reports, but recorded that some of the developments had also been reported by ET earlier.
Notwithstanding that, Subhash Chandra’s eye-popping apology to his creditors—banks, NBFCs and mutual funds—marks an inflection point for a media baron regularly ranked among India’s richest, and extremely close to the ruling BJP, not to mention the RSS.
He was after all elected to the Rajya Sabha from Haryana with the support of the BJP (and invisible ink); his memoirs were released in Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s residence; and above all, his channels have been key fabricators of consent for the BJP.
A connection with demonetisation, howsoever feeble, for such a loyal soldier of the sangh has its consequences.
That something was in the air became apparent through an interview Subhash Chandra gave Vikas Dhoot of The Hindu in September last year in which he launched into Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani.
“Now, this gentleman (referring to Mukesh Ambani) has a different style of doing business. We will fight this out too. We will still stick to our ethical business practices. But maybe their thought process won’t work here….
“I called up to congratulate [TRAI Chairman Ram Sewak Sharma] and told him ‘Everyone is saying that Reliance has got you this extension. Your name is getting associated too much with this and this shouldn’t be the case.’
Is RIL possibly the “negative force” in Subhash Chandra’s mind?
Or is there more than one negative force?
The Economic Times‘ scoop of the #demonetisation links of Nityank was preceded by an even more surprising lead story in The Times of India in November 2018.
ToI reported that Chandra was ready to sell up to half his family’s 42% stake—and that among the names of potential buyers was Mukesh Ambani’s RIL.
At the time, it was suggested that Chandra was merely seeking a strategic partner to help transform it into a “tech-media company”. His apology letter, however, makes it clear that it was to pare the debt of his defaulting companies.
“I have also given my best to expedite the stake sale of ZEE Entertainment. In fact, I have just returned back from London, last night itself, after a series of positive meetings with potential suitors.”
All things considered, Zee’s fall is a stunning denouement for India’s earliest satellite TV broadcaster, which also has print presence through the DNA newspaper which it launched with the Dainik Bhaskar group.
But it was Congress MP and steel baron Naveen Jindal‘s sting operation on Chandra’s journalist Sudhir Chaudhary demanding Rs 100 crore in bribe that showed the warts in the Zee group. (The two sides later patched up.)
More recently, Sudhir Chaudhary and his co-editors wrote a cringing letter to Rahul Gandhi pleading for an end to the boycott of the Zee channels by the Congress party.
“This encompasses the idea Vasudaiva Kutumbakam of Hindutva (not the Hindu religion but the Hndu way of life)…,” read portions of the letter.
Screenshots: courtesy The Indian Express, The Times of India, The Economic Times
Photograph: courtesy DNA