Markets were Jignesh Shah’s passion, as was creating companies. Subhomoy Bhattacharjee explains how luck ran out for the engineer who spotted an opportunity in computer-based trading and an easy regulatory environment.
Six years ago, India’s top capital market honchos were caught by surprise as waiters appeared with red wine and cheese at The Leela, Goa, one warm evening, during an event organised by Jignesh Shah. For many of the delegates, this was their first exposure to the sultan of the Indian capital markets.
Over three days, India’s top finance specialists, with invitees from Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa and Botswana, listened as Shah’s team talked about how to light a fire under the Indian capital markets. Shah wanted the event — ‘Future of Financial Markets’ — to be known as the Davos of Indian financial markets. Commodities, currency and equities were all discussed by delegates, who wore specially crafted half-sleeve shirts in large floral prints that put the holiday crowd in the shade.
Over the years that followed, the Kandivli, Mumbai, boy, the first businessman in his middle-class family — his father Prakash Shah briefly dealt in iron and steel trade — with a distinctive staccato style of talking would get used to such spotlight. He would also fulfil his dream of becoming a billionaire before 40.
However, now, Shah’s run to gain control of the stock markets through his flagship company, Financial Technologies (India) Limited (FTIL), and its 38 subsidiaries has sputtered to a halt. The CBI has ordered a preliminary enquiry into Shah’s role at his National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL), while the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has ordered that FTIL is ineligible to hold shares in any exchange. the Forward Markets Commission had issued a similar order. Read together, Shah’s exclusion is complete. Speaking to The Sunday Express, Shah was downbeat. “I don’t want to talk now. I will be misunderstood, but someday I will speak”.
In 1999, two IT professionals in their early 30s set out to dominate the markets by floating FTIL. A BE in electronics from Mumbai University, Shah had chucked his job as a technology expert at the Bombay Stock Exchange, where he had joined Project BOLT to automate the exchange. Friend Vaidyalingam Hariharan quit as associate vice-president from National Stock Exchange to join the venture. Another friend, again from BSE, Dewang Neralla, too joined in. The team dreamed of capturing a chunk of the expanding field of computer-based trading.
Incidentally, it was C B Bhave, who now faces a CBI probe into Shah’s dealings, who had opened up this field. A couple of years earlier, as chief of National Securities Depository Limited (NSDL), he had made demat trading compulsory for traders. All physical shares had to be ‘extinguished’ continued…