At the age of 20 I started my career as a trainee sub-editor with Financial Express, the business newspaper of the Indian Express group. Among other duties, the news desk, of which I was a lowly part, also oversaw the publication of the stock market pages. These were basically two or three full pages carrying share price listings from the day’s end. This was before the internet existed. Computers had barely come to be. We worked on typewriters still.
Despite lacking much knowledge of business and economy, eking my existence only thanks to a passable proficiency in the English language, there was one lesson I imbibed rather quickly: India’s share market was a wholly unscrupulous place because India’s corporates were a bunch of criminals following no laws and rules.
Most of the seasoned reporters whose reports we “subbed” before printing were, to me, no more than varying versions of stenographers, regurgitating spoonfed stories from the government and the corporates. If you look back at the history of India’s business publications, from The Economic Times, Business Standard and Financial Express to Business Today, Business India, and the like, the only accurate description can be that they were PR shops masquerading as journalism portals.
It still is that way, certainly much worse. To be fair, India’s business publications are not alone. The Western so-called business publications — from Wall Street Journal to Financial Times, The Economist and Forbes — are themselves craven enablers of criminal conduct of the world’s business enterprises, with little history of challenging any corporate for unlawful behavior, leave alone on ethical and moral grounds.
The truth is India’s business publications are as morally compromised as criminally behaved are the country’s corporates. The ordinary people of India have not a chance to win against these giant sleaze machines. Every single rupee the “retail” investor invests in the open market is akin to being spent on buying a lottery ticket.
The government, its agencies, the corporates, the regulators, the banks — who has real oversight? None.
It is so even today. It is amusing to see that these global giants are reporting on Adani as if they’re spectators at a tennis match, their eyeballs moving horizontally back-and-forth with the tennis ball. It’s been a week but not one international publication of repute has chosen to even cursorily investigate the many allegations made by Hindenburg. After all, how hard can it be to investigate offshore firms? Forget that, they are not even reaching out to Credit Suisse or Citiworld, no paragons of virtue themselves, to try and report what went on inside those corner offices before they decided that Adani’s bonds and notes were garbage.
Of course, nobody cares and nobody wants to know — including those millions of salivating hungry retail investors — if the companies and their actions are legit. Not even if their balance sheets are truthful. About liquidity. About debt-equity ratio. About anything. All they care is for the rise in share prices. Nobody gives a damn about oversight. About “fundamentals” that Gautam has been claiming as “sound” even though his flagship’s unit price had fallen from over three thousand rupees a week ago to just about one thousand right now.
The bottom line is this: no data can be trusted because there is no honest oversight in India. There is truly no honesty.
The little over two years I spent at Financial Express, even at the age of 22, gave me a vague idea of two objectives. One, that I must never get sucked into this share business, and I have held steady on it, buying not a single share in my life to date. And two, to get the hell out of business journalism because it was nothing but crookery all around.
So here I am. A wage earner. With not a single share ever to my name. Never bought. So never sold.
अजीत साही वरिष्ठ पत्रकार है.