The Book Wars

Authors of three recent exposés take on the country’s corporate Goliaths

01 September 2014
Subrata Roy, the chairman of the Sahara group, is presently in custody as the Supreme Court investigates the company’s finances.

TAMAL BANDYOPADHYAY’SSahara: The Untold Story, published in June this year, opens not with an endorsement but a disclaimer. The first paragraph of what looks like a preface is actually a scathing review. It claims that the book “is based on a particular notion, wrong perceptions supported by limited and skewed information. Hence, it does not reflect the true and complete picture … The book portrays Sahara in a bad light by attributing unfound facts and incidents to which we have objections.”

The “we” here is the Sahara group, which claims a net worth of $11 billion. In January 2014, Sahara filed a defamation suit against Bandyopadhyay and the book’s publisher, Jaico Books, seeking damages of two billion rupees—about $32 million. As it happens, Bandyopadhyay’s meticulous reporting included a meeting and interview with Sahara’s founder, Subrata Roy, which he quoted from extensively in the book. But Roy was clearly unhappy with the results. According to the disclaimer, the book did not give the company credit for its contributions to the poor and how “stout business ethics” helped it become one of India’s biggest conglomerates. Instead, the book focused only on certain unfortunate aspects, or “unfounded facts,” of the company’s recent history. Sahara has always made a point of, and prided itself on, its large clientele—the company has claimed 80 million customers, but the book estimates the number to be 30 million—mostly from rural India. It has cited that size as evidence of depositors’ and investors’ faith. It appears that Sahara expected praise for playing a major role in inculcating the habit of thrift among rural savers.

But the Sahara disclaimer on Bandyopadhyay’s book takes a surprising turn. While describing the book as “a perspective of the author with all its defamatory content,” it says it respects “a journalist’s freedom,” and even wishes the author success.

Salil Tripathi lives in London, and is a contributing editor at The Caravan and Mint

Keywords: Air India Paranjoy Guha Thakurta Mukesh Ambani Anil Ambani Reliance Tamal Bandyopadhyay Corporate goliaths Sahara group Jitendra Bhargava Subir Ghosh Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri legal threats defamation laws