Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi Do Not Represent the Diamond Industry
There has been a lot of mud-slinging on Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi in last few weeks, and rightly so. However, in the bargain, the hard working community of diamantaires of Gujarat has been defamed too.
It is a gross injustice to them. A few have defiled an enterprising community that rose from illiteracy with earned skills, co-operation and hard work to turn Surat into the diamond exports hub it is today.
Mumbai to Blame?
Mumbai is just an extension of Surat due to its proximity to international market. And as communications and infrastructure grows, it won’t be surprising if this centre too moves back to Gujarat. A new world class diamond trading town is currently under construction in Khajod village, 11 km from Surat, with office areas totalling 6,500,000 sq feet. Once Surat gets air connectivity to Europe, Mumbai may see a shrinking of its influence on this industry.
The only reason why most members of this community came to Mumbai was connectivity. It was but natural that they would be infatuated by the glamour that comes with money. This glamour is what corrupted people like Nirav and Mehul. They belong to the generation of people who established this business in Gujarat and Mumbai and took it away from Antwerp region. This generation has big dreams, abetted by greedy bankers.
Small Towns, Big Deeds, Bigger Hearts
An estimated 99 percent of the global diamond cutting and manufacturing business is with India now. Nearly all, more than 95 percent of the diamond cutters, exporters and diamond jewelry exporters come from a small place called Palanpur in Saurashtra. They belong to middle class, lower-middle class, and OBC category families. Most of them are followers of Jain religion. This explains their spirit of philanthropy.
Having lived in Surat for some months when the diamond industry was coming of age, and being a frequent visitor with family ties in Surat, I had the privilege of personally knowing many of these diamond manufacturers and exporters. As an ERP consultant, I dealt with many of these community members in Mumbai too.
The simple living of this community is worth emulating, as is their philanthropic mindset. Some ‘modern’ people may laugh at it, but they are deeply religious and follow their saints with blind faith. Can you really laugh at a community that has risen from their humble beginnings with nothing but self-belief and community support? This industry represents the true spirit of ‘co-operative competition’.
The Global Shine of Indian Diamantaires
Most of these people came to Surat as diamond cutting and polishing workers. From there, they graduated to brokerage and trading, and after opening offices in Mumbai, graduated to Antwerp, London, Bangkok and Hong Kong.
As these businesses grew, it was observed that these entrepreneurs would favour business associates and employees from in and around Palanpur. Employing people from their own villages and community also reduced the risk of theft of precious rough and polished diamonds. Surat is now the hub, whereas diamond cutting and manufacturing has moved to new units in places like Botad, Amreli, and even Saurashtra.
Shadow Under the Jewel
The institution of ‘Angadia’ – the personalised couriers – also helped the diamantaires move material and money efficiently between various centres and trading centres. A lack of literacy may be another reason why the community chose to rely on less technical ways, choosing instead to fall back on faith instead of complex banking agreements. It may sound like shady ‘hawala’ trading today. But for them, it was simply more logistical, more efficient, personal and reliable than the new age impersonal companies.
The downfall of the diamond industry began after the 2008 recession that killed the European and US market, resulting in huge overheads of international offices. The world of sons-of-the-soil fell apart. This is possibly when the bankers walked in with their clever ideas of LOUs, etc, to help some of them carry out the charade of a thriving business.
Readers will recall that the new-fangled custom diamond jewellery stores came up only recently, replacing the traditional well-known jewellers of yore.
We may have seen this business survive and thrive, but only if the government had been alert enough to understand their plight and provide better and cleaner financing in order to help them tide over the international crisis. This community is highly self-respecting and close knit, and they help resolve financial crises of individual brethren by pooling in, without anyone outside their network even knowing about it. Not only this, they usually tend to intervene to resolve family matters and strained ties between community members. Only this time, it may be impossible to rescue those who violated the community’s code of ethics.
It is a pity that such a wonderful and enterprising community of diamantaires has now been tarnished because of the shenanigans of a few.
(The author is an RSS ideologue. He can be reached @RatanSharda55. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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