The Essar Group is currently under investigation for allegedly cultivating politicians and bureaucrats to further their interests. According to a story published in The Indian Express on December 2, 2015, a corporate policy presentation made in 2010 was called ‘Navigating the Corridors of Power: To positively
influence the high and mighty’.
The opening remark made by the director of this project was: The quality of your life is the quality of your relationships.
Without getting into the legal, moral or ethical agenda of this particular company’s modus operandi which will no doubt unfold in the coming months, there is an opportunity to be ferreted out of this — to gain an insight on how this city, and big business really works. In an interview some years back, Congressman Jairam Ramesh observed wryly that India is run by 10,000 people, who all know each other well. It’s not news that at every level, contacts count and they always have, everywhere in the world. Top American investment banks have come under scrutiny for hiring the children of Chinese industrialists to gain a footing there. Forty years ago, the iconic mobster book Godfather began with the quote that behind every great fortune there is a crime. In modern day corporate parlance that could roughly translate to, behind every great fortune there is also a formidable team of lobbyists, networkers and PR professionals, quietly connecting the ambitious with the influential — in the hope things might happen. The cringeworthy term ‘high and mighty’ in this context also stresses on the importance of networking, the huge value of building relationships with people who matter. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that — until integrity is forsaken for advancement.
I got my first job in the classic Delhi way, through someone my mother knew. It was a brief, unsuccessful stint in an advertising agency where I realised I was even worse at lying than I am at telling the truth. My colleagues would roll in at 6 pm and work, whatever it is they did, began post dinner. Within two days I knew I wanted out since I was indifferent to jingles and entirely unmoved by ads. Of course, I was there as a favour, certainly not for my brilliance and sure, it’s unfair. But so is the fact that anybody reading this won the birth lottery. The primary predictor of our success isn’t how hard we work but our family’s level of education while we grew up. There’s no point denying privilege exists or that there is a cosy club of business czars, media barons, and public servants that feed off each other.
Nobody really shed a tear when I fled the agency after three excruciating weeks. But I did happen to run into my then boss recently. Time has dulled our mutual contempt and we have stayed in touch. In an ideal world we could all go about our careers in splendid isolation, secure that hard work is all that’s needed for personal growth. That’s simply not true. If only those of us who can tap into school, college and work networks that help in a hundred different meandering ways, could just be aware that we’re not superior just luckier — in the future, it might go some way in ensuring a measure of fairness for those who don’t have them.