Autobiographies often suffer from unreserved prose; the writer is usually obsessed with big stories, big topics, big struggles. In Indian autobiographies, the stories become exaggerated, topics grand and struggles epic.
Rarely does Whatever the Odds, the autobiography of KP Singh, the patriarch of real estate powerhouse DLF, break this pattern. Nearly every account that emerges from the book, which chronicles the explosive growth of a fledgling property player into India’s biggest real estate company, is out of the ordinary.
Singh writes about his perseverance despite running foul of a powerful politician, his vision to transform Gurgaon into a “boom city”, his “doing business the hard way” in a land of archaic laws and yes, how he “cheated death” on five occasions, no less. There are also many glowing references to Singh’s business practice.
“The greatest lesson I learnt from George WarrenHoddy” [an American entrepreneur who was Singh’s mentor], recounts Singh, “was business ethics.” “It has been the moving force in my life and career. Hoddy once told me that it was so easy to lose sight of ethics as India’s archaic laws and bureaucracy made it almost impossible for business to flourish.”
Singh’s tales in the book have largely gone uncontested. Indeed, his contribution to the development of Gurgaon despite its present inadequacies is irrefutable. But his account on ethics was cast in unusually negative light on October 5 when anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal alleged that DLFBSE -1.11 % provided undue favours to Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress president, Sonia Gandhi.
String of Violations
Kejriwal stepped up the attack against DLF three days later, this time alleging that its collusion with the Haryana government helped it land government plots, illegally raise floor area ratio (FAR), a measure of how much construction is allowed on a plot, and convert land meant for a hospital into a special economic zone.
ET, which first revealed DLF’s association with Vadra last year, reported on Friday that the company had carried out three other transactions worth Rs 446 crore involving a hotel joint venture with the businessman.
Given that everything about Vadra is unremarkable except his marriage, did Singh’s company lose sight of ethics through the association? DLF was quick to deny any wrong-doing. The government was just as quick to rule out a probe. Kejriwal is sticking to his guns. That means there will be no end to the controversy anytime soon.