Guest post by ADITYA VELIVELLI
A wife’s career taking a backseat due to her husband’s work is no trivial issue. However, Outlook magazine used this issue to defend a powerful couple who had giant conflicts of interest among them.
In the recent cabinet reshuffle, Minister of State for Finance, Jayant Sinha, was shifted out of the finance ministry. A few news articles came out speculating that Sinha’s transfer was due to his wife Punita Sinha’s conflicts of interest and because a Tea party organised by Jayant Sinha involved schmoozing between Corporates and bank officers. Jayant Sinha was in the process of organising a bailout fund for the bad corporate loans at that time. This bailout fund would be paid for by the tax payers.
A screenwriter named Advaita Kala wrote the Outlook piece defending Punita Sinha and her husband. Kala misled the readers by implying that Punita Sinha had not taken any new board of directors positions after Jayant Sinha became junior finance minister. In fact, Punita Sinha took on positions that had a direct conflict of interest with her husband’s responsibilities, becoming a Board of Director at SKS Microfinance in March 2015 and at Infosys in 2016, well after Jayant Sinha became junior finance minister.
Kala ignored the fact that board of director positions in powerful companies are not career related in the traditional sense, but mostly about networking and communications between powerful people.
Punita Sinha became board member at SKS Microfinance just after it was revealed that SKS was interested in applying to become a small finance bank. SKS’s application would have been directly scrutinised by Punita’s husband, Jayant Sinha.
It is a tragedy that a magazine once led by Vinod Mehta chose to publish an article written by a film screenwriter defending the powerful. This could have been an investigative piece by a professional journalist. Instead the readers were subjected to an opinion piece on a wife’s freedom to choose career, but with all the facts obscured.
Did Ms. Kala, the screenwriter know that Punita Sinha was elected to the board of SKS Microfinance, almost a year after Sinha became junior finance minister. Did Ms. Kala know that Jayant Sinha was MD of Omidyar Network prior to the 2014 elections and that Omidyar Network had funded SKS Microfinance to offer microloans to the poor at usurious interest rates. Did she know that hundreds of people in Andhra committed suicide when SKS Microfinance subjected them to atrocious shaming tactics to get repaid. Did Ms. Kala know that these atrocious pressure tactics were inspired by the investment principles advocated by Jayant Sinha’s boss, the libertarian Pierre Omidyar. Jayant Sinha’s boss said that such investments (SKS) were to be “evaluated as commercial investments and, no different than any other business opportunity” and demanded that “social impact not serve as a shield for underperformance.”
Did Ms. Kala know that Jayant Sinha wrote an article with a SKS board member attacking the AP Govt.’s anti-microfinance bill, a bill that was put together to save the poor from predatory lending and its horrible consequences?
It does seem that Advaita Kala coordinated with Punita Sinha in writing the Outlook piece. Punita Sinha stated to the Telegraph on or before July 10: “I have my own successful professional life and my career does not keep changing depending on which ministry my husband is in. I have to do what I have been doing for 25-30 years,”
Advaita Kala wrote this very argument in the Outlook article published on July 15. And in what looks like a coordinated media defense of the Sinhas, Financial Express published the exact same language used by Punita Sinha and Advaita Kala on July 12.
This whole episode reeks of nepotism that was defended by the most liberal sections of the Indian media for reasons best known to them.