Eighteen decades ago, in or around 1840, Calcutta saw the subcontinent’s first bank scam. It was by a duo—one of them businessman Raj Kishore Datta, who, interestingly, had himself founded the bank, he plundered along with his son-in-law Dwarka Nath Mitra. Author Shib Chunder Bose documented the pioneering loot in his 1881 study, The Hindoos As They Are. He was, however, ashamed to furnish the full list of the glowing accomplices and accompanists in the crime. Bose, of course, hinted that a combination was formed among a few influential natives, whose names “I am ashamed to mention and a well concocted system of fraud was organized”. To highlight his social class, noted he, Datta was “a very respectable Hindoo gentleman” of Calcutta. This alluring coat of social respectability protected certain class against exposures of disgraceful crimes committed by them. A privilege not many enjoy!
Today, the feat has been repeated by another duo: Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choski. Only that they targeted the country’s nationalised banks—perhaps considering them a safer target, given the vulnerability. If Datta and Mitra had no safety valve in place during the colonial era, it’s one advantage their 21st-century manifestations do enjoy—covertly, if not overtly. They have everything in place: for protection, and rescue in case of intervention from the administration, legislature or the judiciary. They have rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty in public on camera. So, their closeness off the camera with the powers-that-be is better left to imagination.