Monday, January 26, 2009

The curious case of B. Ramalinga Raju

Confessing fraud in his letter to the board of Satyam, Satyam Computer’s founder and chairman B. Ramalinga Raju wrote: “It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.”

The allusion to a tiger in this sentence reminded me of last year’s Booker prize winning novel, The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga, a fellow Indian writer. Through his novel as well as author interviews, Adiga postulates that only through two ways can a poor man rise above his rank in India’s current socio-economic system: crime and politics.

How interesting to note that Raju uses the same vehicle of tiger—a symbol of turbo-charged unstoppable growth—to convey what he was dealing with! Juxtapose it with Balram, The White Tiger, the lead character in Adiga’s novel. The narrative shows the contrast between India’s rise as a modern global economy and the crime-fuelled ambitions of Balram who escapes rural poverty to seek a destiny of riches.

But the relationship between the real Raju and the fictional Balram ends here. Unlike Balram, Raju did not exactly come from a poor family. After his father migrated to the state capital Hyderabad from his ancestral village Garagaparru, he started buying land in the city. Raju was sent to Ohio in the US to study business. He came back to help his father in the construction business. Raju grew the business, achieved great success, finally diversifying into textiles and even software—now he was firmly saddled on ‘the tiger’. Tax holidays and India’s outsourcing boom helped Satyam, that was started with 20 employees in 1987, to become India’s fourth largest outsourcer.

But Raju was not happy with the number four status. He wanted to be number one. And that desire to become the numero uno in his field—by hook or by crook—caused his ultimate downfall.


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