Yesterday we derived confidence that the rule of law which we often skeptically say is plummeting in India and is often considered to be more absent than present finally made itself felt. The Supreme Court packed off “Sahara Shri” Subrata Roy to Tihar Jail as a common prisoner for his inability to come out with a concrete action plan to pay back Rs. 19,000 crores due to his investors.
This case assumed great importance because of the personalities involved. Subrata Roy is well-known for his flamboyant life style and connections with the high and mighty in Indian politics, especially with the Samajwadi Party which is the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh. He was, besides, advised by a battery of eminent lawyers which included Ram Jethmalani and others.
Roy’s is indeed an interesting story. They say he started off with a mere Rs 2000 in 1974 selling stuff in the bylanes of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh on his old Lambretta scooter. Yesterday he drove to the Supreme Court in his Mercedes with a reputedly net worth of Rs. 68,000 crores (about $ 11 billion.)
Not too many know just how Roy built his business empire and who his investors are. We do know that he started with getting middle class and lower middle class people to invest in his schemes. While these business grew in size, they were for the most part not much in the public eye. I guess his starting an airline, Sahara Airways, which is now defunct projected him into another league altogether. He then received huge prominence since the Sahara group was the main sponsor of the Indian cricket team. He was well entrenched in the three areas which dominate life in India: cricket, Bollywood and politics. These led him to assume a larger than life image. His recent acquisitions of luxury hotels like the Plaza in New York and Grosvenor House in London speak of the immense wealth at his command.
I am no legal expert but what I gather from news reports is that Sahara Shri crossed the limit when he ignored a summons to appear in person before the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. He did say that his mother was ill and so on but the Court felt, and rightly so, that it had given him more chances than one. The issue of a non-bailable warrant in his name changed things very quickly for him. Roy probably realized that even he had gone too far.
Yesterday, on the way to the Court a man (supposedly a lawyer for small investors) threw black ink on Roy’s face calling him a thief. If this was not drama enough for one day, the Supreme Court Bench hearing his case didn’t see merit in his apologies and assurances that he would pay the investors in due course of time. the Court appears to have ruled that he can take time to come out with a plan to re-pay his investors, but he will have to stay in Delhi’s infamous Tihar Jail till them.
The next date for the hearing is March 11. Will Sahara Shri come out with a plan to repay his investors that will meet the requirements of the Supreme Court? Will he realize that even he is not above the law of the land? Only time will tell. Which ever way this story goes, I am glad of one thing. It has restored the sagging image of the rule of law amongst people in India. Other businessmen and politicians must be wondering that if this can happen to someone as rich and powerful man as Subrata Roy, it could happen to them as well. The case, in my view, indicates once again that our laws and rules are by and large more than adequate. The problem is that they are seldom implemented in the way they ought to be.