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Journalist and chartered accountant, Swaminathan Gurumurthy has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind, especially if it concerns the dubious shenanigans of corporate houses and politicians. Which is what makes his coming out in favour of Nitin Gadkari, the BJP president, so mystifying.
In a series of Tweets on Wednesday, Gurumurthy elaborated his defence of Gadkari. “I examined legal and moral aspect... The 14 questioned companies belong to Nagpur group that invested in Purti in 2004 and told IT department (sic.). Nitin has legally nothing to do with the 14 questioned companies. Morally he is clear because Nagpur Group owned them in 2003-04. Nagpur group is a reputed group of Jain family with Rs 2,000 crore asset base, not a marginal player. The media is in the grip of competitive sensationalising.” This correspondent made several attempts to reach him, but failed.
Cho Ramasamy, Gurumurthy’s long-time friend and editor of Tughlak magazine, doesn't seem to share his opinion. “The impression created is that BJP is going out of its way to protect someone indulging in shady transactions. Gurumurthy’s backing may help BJP president, but ultimately BJP will pay a heavy price.” With the Congress government in Haryana clearing Robert Vadra in the DLF-land deal, Ramaswamy says that it seems to have become the “practice now to make an internal audit and give a clean chit”.
But then, Gurumurthy has always been a leading ideologue of the Sangh Parivar. He is also co-convenor of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, which advocates protectionism in economic policy.
Born in a small village near Villipuram 160 km south of Chennai, Gurumurthy graduated from Vivekananda College and wanted to be a lawyer but his family was against it and so studied chartered accountancy. He now runs his own audit firm.
It was as an auditor, working on the accounts of Ramnath Goenka’s companies that he embarked on a career as a journalist. He created a splash when he exposed irregularities in the Reliance Group in a series of articles in the Indian Express. One of his articles, co-authored with Arun Shourie, claimed Reliance was operating an entire plant with machines that were imported as spare parts, paying lower customs duty. He has continued his crusade into more recent times when at the height of the 2G controversy, he wrote an article in the New Indian Express, accusing Dayanidhi Maran, telecom minister in the previous United Progressive Alliance regime, of using his position to get Sun TV, his brother Kalanidhi Maran’s company, 323 BSNL telephone connections for free.
His understanding of the working of companies has made him a preferred choice as mediator in corporate disputes. Gurumurthy played a major role in the transfer of L&T's cement division to Aditya Birla Group. He also mediated between Bajaj Auto Chairman Rahul Bajaj and his younger brother Shishir (who controls Bajaj Hindustan and has a stake in Bajaj Auto and other group firms). Besides, he also helped Bajaj Auto and TVS Motors settle a patents dispute. TVS’s successful buyback of Suzuki’s stake was also handled by Gurumurthy. He also persuaded NRI investor C Sivasankaran to divest his 33 per cent holding in Tuticorin-based Tamil Nadu Mercantile Bank for Rs 130 crore.
Gurumurthy is a strong believer of community-based development, says a senior journalist who has met him off and on over the years. This is the reasons why he is such a strong advocate of small and medium enterprises and jumped to the help of 25 knitwear manufacturing units in Tirupur who were hit by ill-informed forex derivative products sold to them by major banks. Gurumurthy formed a forum of the Tirupur units, approached RBI and carried the message through the media. It worked and the Parliamentary standing committee on finance called the forum to present its case and directed Gurumurthy to lead the enquiry.
Gurumurthy attributes his success in negotiation to his training in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, saying it has made him look at issues (such as the Bajaj dispute) not as a professional, but as an Indian. In an earlier interview to a website he had confessed that if he had not come in contact with RSS, he would have worked solely for himself. “Now, when I go to Tiruppur or Namakkal or Karur [also in Tamil Nadu], I see the national interest in the people.”
Was he looking at the national interest when he defended Gadkari?