Free Press Journal

The Target: Review


Title: The Target
Author: Shantanu Guha Ray
Publishers: AuthorsUpFront
Price: Rs 495 (Hard back)
Pages: 233

Jignesh Shah was a master innovator, a sterling exponent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ programme. He had pioneered the creation of 10 world-class exchanges across a variety of asset classes in India and abroad and built a global empire. But his efforts were brought to nought by his powerful rivals.
Investigative journalist-turned-author Shantanu Guha Ray in his latest book ‘The Target’ exposes the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by the rich and powerful to silence the man who was intent on breaking the market monopoly and passing the profits to the masses.
The 233-page book, a result of two years of meticulous research, bares all – the Rs 5,600 crore NSEL (National Spot Exchange Limited) payment crisis, fundamental lacunas in the system and vested interests that work to malign and punish any threat to a coterie of individuals.

Digging deep into the NSEL crisis, Ray, who in 2011 scooped the billion dollar coal scam, found out that it was used by the powerful brokers at Malabar Hill Club and influential politicians as a tool to crush the innovative spirit of Shah, the Financial Technologies India Ltd (FTIL) Chairman.

The crisis that could have been easily resolved has been left unresolved to date. The Wharton-trained journalist says that “If things had gone Jignesh Shah’s way, he would have been the ‘Czar of Exchanges’.”

Shah had pioneered creation of 10 world-class exchanges for commodities, equity, currency, bond and electricity in India, Singapore, Dubai and Africa in just a decade. No innovator has been credited with such accomplishments across the world. All the markets were No. 1 in India and No2 in the world. These companies were original Intellectual Property-based innovations and did not involve any subsidy from the government or banks, states the author.

“He (Shah) was riding a crest from which very few could have toppled him by way of talent and performance. But he had taken on institutional forces like the National Stock Exchange (NSE) including its political godfather, corporates with vested interest, rich and powerful brokers and FII fronts- known as the famed Malabar Hill Club. He did it by sheer performance to democratize the market prosperity to masses.”

Shah’s rivals used the payment crisis that hit the markets in July 2013, to “annihilate FTIL and finish Shah”, avers Ray, a recipient of the Ramnath Goenka award for excellence in journalism.

He states that it was surprising as whenever any crisis emerged in the case of NSE or BSE (Bombay Stock Exchange), the authorities responded by extending relief measures to stem the crisis. But when it came to NSEL all the authorities did was to embark upon a wide range of punitive measures.
“More importantly, in the past, never, in any exchange related issues, were the parent company’s board or promoters punished or its management supplanted. Hence, the million-dollar question that surfaced was simple: Was the move solely meant to stifle Shah and ensure his company’s eventual demise?”

Interestingly, NSEL was established at the insistence of former prime minister Manmohan Singh in a bid to bring about uniform pricing for agricultural commodities in the spot markets across the country. After the crisis, different investigative agencies like the EOW-Mumbai and the Enforcement Directorate established the entire money trail to the 24 defaulting brokers of NSEL. No money trail was established to NSEL, FTIL or its promoters as observed by the High Court. A Special Leave Petition challenging the order was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

Suhel Seth, social commentator, columnist, author and visiting faculty at Indian Institutes of Management, who wrote the Foreward says “Shantanu has very effectively narrated the entire saga of how India’s indigenous growth story was killed due to some vested interests in corporate and bureaucratic circles much before Make in India was ushered in.”

“The destruction of Shah… would prove fatal for the 108 new-generation entrepreneurs seeking to develop IP institutions and realise the Prime Minister’s dream of Make in India.”
Ray has not only very boldly come out with his findings but also prominently displayed mug shots of the three principal actors above that of the protagonist, on the cover of the book. The author,who had earlier penned ‘Mahi’, a biography of former Indian skipper M S Dhoni, and ‘Fixed’, on matching fixing in cricket, has also won several awards.
Ray won Laadli award for his findings into the scandal pertaining to cervical cancer human trials. His work on water-related issues got him the Wash award. He was also part of an award winning team that probed the dangers of tobacco and asbestos across the world.