A lot can happen over coffee: politics, business, big money, tax terrorism, scandal, and a happy ending

The juiciest story today is the news that the Karnataka Congress chief D.K. Shiva Kumar’s daughter is to marry the son of the founder of Cafe Coffee Day, the late V.G. Siddhartha.

Siddhartha, the son-in-law of former Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna, you will remember, killed himself by jumping into a river in Mangalore, in July last year.

At least two Bangalore newspapers confirm the rumour of the alliance: The Times of India and Kannada Prabha. And in ToI, Shiva Kumar goes on record and says it is “all god’s wish”.

The girl is Aishwarya. She is 22 and looks after her father’s educational institute, the Global Institute of Technology. The boy is Amartya Hegde. He is 26, and manages Coffee Day with his mother, Malavika.

***

On the face of it, this alliance is CCD’s slogan coming true: A lot can happen over coffee. It brings together two political families of the Vokkaliga community together. And it makes the protege a member of his mentor’s family. 

Shiva Kumar was and is S.M. Krishna’s blue-eyed boy. 

But as everybody working from home knows these days, nothing is what it seems in politics and business.

A source says that the marriage had not been firmed up even as recently as a month ago. In fact, if this source is to be believed, he was not even looking for a rich or powerful alliance. Even a simple boy would do.

So, something seems to have changed in the last few days for the marriage to be so hurriedly announced.

***

EZpMlMaVcAAXY0p

What makes the marriage alliance juicy is the backdrop preceding it.

When Siddhartha’s body was found, it was Shiva Kumar who accompanied S.M. Krishna to the funeral. This despite Krishna having left the Congress and joined the the BJP. 

At the time, this looked like just a small act of courtesy, but clearly the relationship was built on stronger footing.

Secondly, what makes the alliance interesting is all the rumours and whispers that have been heard since Siddhartha’s suicide.

Screenshot 2020-06-04 14.46.55

Siddhartha’s suicide note was by itself an amazing piece of art: it was a computer printout taken on his letterhead, and it was so carefully worded that it looked almost looked it had been drafted by a lawyer.

In his suicide note, Siddhartha alleged a “lot of harassment by a former director general of the income-tax department”.

He also spoke mysteriously of “tremendous pressure from other lenders”.

Who were the “other lenders”?

Were they based here or in foreign shores?

And why was the pressure from them so unbearable?

EAxxTdyU0AAjGh0

An excellent Indian Express report at the time said that Siddhartha was under pressure from a distress debt fund to repay the money it had provided in 2018 to the family to buy back shares held by the global private equity player KKR.

Was the burden of paying back so big that he should end his life when CCD?

After all, debt is normal in business. 

Moreover, unlike Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi, no bank or lender was (publicly) after Siddhartha for recovery. His assets exceeded his outstandings. So, what was the “threat” he was facing from which he saw no way out? 

***

Siddharatha’s car driver said his master looked distraught after receiving a phone call. Who called Siddhartha in those final few hours?

The tongues kept wagging in the initial few days.

In fact, in one video after the suicide note became public, D.K. Shiva Kumar claimed he had spoken to Siddhartha and he would be back soon.

EBGBhrgUwAAthOt

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw of Biocon who went public against harassment by income tax men, she said she received a phone call from Delhi not to make such statements.  

Screenshot 2020-06-04 14.54.57

At first, to deflect attention from charges of tax terrorism, unnamed “top IT department sources” planted stories of Siddhartha’s “dubious hawala transactions” involving a Singapore citizen Rajnish Gopinath. This turned out to be a red herring. Gopinath was actually a director on a #CafeCoffeeDay 

Soon after, TV channels found a DK. Shiva Kumar angle.

The Times of India among other papers reported that some of Siddhartha’s troubles began because of his close ties to D.K. Shiva Kumar. The paper quoted IT sources as saying that Siddhartha and Shiva Kumar had had financial dealings.

It was these dealings that had landed Siddhartha under the tax scanner.

Siddartha’s name had come up during a search of Shiva Kumar’s tax consultant in August 2017, went Shiva Kumar was safeguarding Congress MLAs from Gujarat at a resort owned by him. 

EAycWYuVUAESiTv

Five months earlier S.M. Krishna had left the Congress and joined the BJP.

In fact, it was suggested at the time that he had made the jump in the late evening of his political life, only to protect Siddhartha, who is married to Krishna’s daughter Malavika.

But to the credit of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, it did not allow Krishna’s defection to impede the investigation. 

Siddhartha and Cafe Coffee Day were eventually raided.

After the raids, the income-tax department attached Siddhartha’s shares in the IT company Mindtree. He owned over 20% of the company. 

D.K. Shiva Kumar’s brother D.K. Suresh, a member of Parliament, said in The Times of India that this action of the IT department had caused a severe liquidity crunch for Siddhartha. It also delayed the sale of his stake to L&T.

The final report of the investigation launched by Cafe Coffee Day is still to be complete.

But in March this year, a draft report leaked to Bloomberg and Hindu BusinessLine alleged $270 million missing from Coffee Day accounts. What does that mean?

***

EAyvXnjUYAAzU0mAlthough CafeCoffee Day became a nationally known brand like Infosys and Kingfisher Airlines, it exemplified the crony capitalism that thrived under S.M. Krishna regime.

Krishna’s Chief Secretary S.V. Ranganath came on to the #CCD board after his retirement. And when Siddhartha killed himself, Ranganath was brought back as  interim president.

Poornima Jairaj, the wife of former additional Chief Secretary K. Jairaj, was its public face.

It is all this that makes the news of the tie up between the Siddhartha and Shiva Kumar families such a juicy story.

The intersection of politics, business, bureaucracy, high society, big money, tax terrorism, the whiff of a scandal, and a marriage™™™.

Will it have a happy ending?