Naveen Jindal's Tiranga Bangle Tangle

Published: Tuesday, Mar 12,2013, 07:39 IST
Flag Foundation, Rahul Kanwal, Sales of Goods Act 1930, Trivortex Tiranga Bangle

Last week, I wrote about the televised humiliation of MP Naveen Jindal, in which India Today's Rahul Kanwal asked him awkward questions that he couldn't adequately answer, while the calm, logical Dr Sanjeev Bagai, CEO of Radiant Life Care, produced a collection of facts that made Jindal look incompetent, at best.

The subject, of course, was the now-infamous Tiranga Bangle, and Jindal's plans to distribute them far and wide around India. Asked why, and how much the bangles would cost, Jindal maintained that he was dishing them out because he felt that they had helped him, and his family, and wanted to share that perceived benefit with others.

When pressed over the cost, he bleated:-

“It is not for profiteering, it is not for making money. So it's for my friends, for people I know.”

Based upon this exchange, The Hindustan Times later reported, “They have also clarified that the Flag Foundation is not selling the bangles, but is offering them free.”

This is interesting, as previous press releases from Jindal – and his now-absent launch partner, Shashi Tharoor – were widely reported in the media.

The Mangalorean wrote “Jindal said the bangle would be launched nationwide. Its price is yet to be finalised.”

Similar quotes appeared in MedIndia, IBN Live and numerous other media outlets.

Of course, price is not the same as value – it is possible to buy a product for an enormous sum, and still end up owning something that has no value whatsoever – but the initial media reports seem to indicate that there would be some cost associated with the Tiranga bangle. Or, in other words, that it would be sold for a fee. The Hindustan Times now seems to suggest – based on its interpretation of Jindal's interview comments – that the bangle would be free. However, Jindal also said in the interview that it would be “not for profit”, suggesting that it may be for sale at a price that would simply cover manufacturing and distribution costs, instead of being totally free.

Given the cloud of questions hovering over the Jindal’s wheeling and dealing, it is interesting to note the role of the Jindal Steel Works in the case of Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa. The tale describes an Educational and Social Trust and the financial antics therein.

The CBI investigation is detailed here.

“In his arguments, CBI counsel Ashok Bhan had earlier submitted Rs 20 crore was transferred by Jindal Steel Works (JSW) to Prerana Educational and Social Trust, run by Yeddyurappa’s sons, and subsequently by Prerana to Vivekananda Trust, of which Yeddyurappa is a trustee.

CBI, he pointed out, was probing charges of conspiracy cheating, corruption and violation of Karnataka Land (Restriction on Transfer) Act, 1991, registered against Yeddyurappa, his sons, son-in-law, JSW and others.

According to CBI, the donations were a “quid pro quo for Jindal”.

Given the above, it was important to discover whether Jindal’s Flag Foundation came under the anti-corruption legislation – Lokpal.

My colleague Abhinav Shankar told me as follows :-

“As registered as a non-profit organisation under Society Act with no govt. donations, it does not come under ambit of Lokpal- neither Govt. proposed Lokpal nor Kejriwal proposed one !!”

This is rather concerning for all. This means the Flag Foundation is largely unaccountable and Mr Jindal is free to do whatever he wishes. We can therefore merely speculate on the potential of Jindal’s bangle ventures.

If the Tiranga Bangle is to be sold, either for a profit or simply to cover the costs of distribution, it will, of course, be subject to the terms of the Sales of Goods Act 1930. In particular, Section 16[1] of the Act provides that:

“(1) Where the buyer, expressly or by implication, makes known to the seller the particular purpose for which the goods are required, so as to show that the buyer relies on the seller' s skill or judgment, and the goods are of a description which it is in the course of the seller' s business to supply (whether he is the manufacturer or producer or not), there is an implied condition that the goods shall be reasonably fit for such purpose: Provided that, in the case of a contract for the sale of a specified article under its patent or other trade name, there is no implied condition as to its fitness for any particular purpose.”

As anyone who saw Dr Bagai's sterling performance on India Today – or read about it in my last article ! - must realise, there is no scientific basis for the claimed therapeutic benefits of the Tiranga Bangle. Worse, there are well documented health risks associated with prolonged contact with copper and other heavy metals. It is difficult to see how a product that is touted as having therapeutic benefits but is, at best, ineffective, could possibly meet the requirement of being reasonably fit for purpose, as required by the Act.

Jindal's reliance on “personal experience” of the Tiranga Bangles' reputed advantages is unlikely to satisfy the terms of the Act, either; when someone purchases a product that is made available on the basis of its purported therapeutic benefits, the implication is that the goods are required to fulfil a therapeutic function, and Jindal's “personal experience” must, surely, amount to a judgment of their efficacy and, thus, their fitness for that purpose.

Similarly, his insistence that:

“I don’t think it can do you any harm … You just wear it for fun”

Is equally inadequate for the purposes of the Act. Quite apart from whether or not the Tiranga Bangle can cause harm, it is hard to imagine there being any discernible fun in wearing a Tiranga Bangle that doesn't perform the function(s) it is claimed to perform. As a rule (and I appreciate that there may be exceptions), individuals who purchase a product in the belief that it has therapeutic benefits are in need (sometimes very urgent need) of those benefits, either for themselves or for someone close to them. It is unlikely that they would find any fun in the discovery that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the Tiranga Bangle has any therapeutic function whatsoever. Consequently, the Tiranga Bangle would still be unfit for purpose.

I may be wrong. It may be that there are enthusiastic crowds of delighted, Tiranga Bangle-wearing consumers gathering outside the Flag Foundation of India's offices on a daily basis, there to form into Conga lines and dance through the streets, singing the praises of Naveen Jindal's non-therapeutic, fun-filled Tiranga Bangle until their arthritic limbs collapse beneath them. But I doubt it.

Of course, Jindal has gone on record as confirming that the Tiranga Bangle is not for making money. Naturally, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we must treat his words with the respect that is due to a prominent politician.

However, we can speculate about what might happen in the purely hypothetical event that the Tiranga Bangle, or something like it, was to be distributed by someone other than Jindal. It would certainly be possible for that hypothetical individual to make money from distributing the Bangle for free, should they wish to do so.

For example, they may invite the people who purchase the Bangle to register it by sending an email containing certain information to a special email address. They may be asked to provide their name, email address and contact number, their Bangle's serial number (which, conveniently, could be engraved on the Bangle), the date, their city / location and comments about how they have benefited from the Bangle.

In exchange for providing this information, they could be promised a reminder email in three years' time, when the Bangle is due for “recharging” – which may come as something of a surprise to those who didn't realise that the Bangles would need “recharging”, or that it was even possible to do so. The hypothetical Bangle distributor may wish to charge a fee for this “recharging” service, convinced that their clients will not want to run the risk of their Bangle becoming (even more) useless.

However, this presupposes that, in the intervening 3 years, the Bangle's owner will have experienced some tangible benefit from the Bangle, and would wish to prolong that experience for a further period. It is far more likely that, during this period, the owner will have noticed no benefit whatsoever, and will have shrewdly deduced that the Bangle is worth exactly what they paid for it – nothing at all. Consequently, the likelihood of the hypothetical Bangle pusher making any money worth speaking of out of “recharging” the Bangles seems somewhat remote.

Without the benefit of hindsight, however, this promise of a reminder to recharge the Bangle may well be all that is required to prompt new (and therefore not yet disillusioned) Bangle owners to send the requested email, along with all the required information. In the 21st Century, information – particularly information about people – has value, and the more accurate that information is, the more value it has.

The hypothetical Bangle distributor would already know that Bangle owners were unwell (they probably wouldn't have any interest in the Bangle if they were healthy), and that their illness fell into the group which the Bangle is supposed to be able to help. They would also have some idea that the owners were gullible enough – or, at least, sufficiently badly informed – to believe that the Bangle could help them, and desperate enough to register for “recharging” reminders up to three years in advance.

Upon receipt of that registration email, the hypothetical Bangle distributor would also know who the owner was, where they were how to contact them by email and telephone and that they fell into a socio-economic group that had access to those technologies. Any comments that were submitted along with the other information could well, when analysed, provide further information about the Bangle owner, and, even if they did not, could be used in future promotional material.

As Bangle owners registered their Bangles, the hypothetical distributor would build up a large list of names and contact details of sick individuals who might be interested in hearing about other, non-free, products relevant to their illness (and, possibly, other products, too). The list would be effectively self-selecting – any Bangle owner who was smart enough to stay off the list, or unable / unwilling to access email and telephone services would automatically be excluded, ensuring that the list contained only viable, trusting prospects that might be willing and able to purchase something in the future. Anyone familiar with Internet Marketing will recognise this approach as a variation on a very common list-building technique, in which free products are offered in exchange for an individual's email address. In the online world, the free products usually take the form of digital downloads, but the technique translates well into the real world, too.

The hypothetical Bangle distributor might wish to try marketing products to the list themselves, or they may simply sell access to the list to other organisations. Needless to say, such a highly targeted list of potential customers could have huge commercial value in its own right, particularly if it contains information on an awful lot of people.

Alternatively, the list could be used in aggregated form, to help identify regions where Bangle-related illness was common, in conjunction with other desirable factors such as telephone and email access, in order to determine where more conventional marketing campaigns might be most effective. This, too, would make the list tremendously valuable.

Or, if the hypothetical distributor was more interested in political power than commercial gain, the correlations between email addresses, telephone numbers and actual people – together with their locations – might find their way into Government or party-political databases. Here, again, they could have enormous value to those eager to seize or maintain power. With an election looming, the ability to target specific groups of voters, and even communicate directly with them, could become a significant advantage to one party or another.

Naturally, the viability of the Bangles as bait in building a list for commercial use would depend very much on the cost of manufacturing and distributing them. In the real world, Jindal has remained tight lipped on the details of deals done with Tri-Vortex (the Bangles' manufacturers) and any possible connections with his own mining interests (including copper), so it is difficult to estimate how much it might cost our hypothetical Bangle distributor to start the ball rolling. However, it is worth noting that the list would probably be used to promote a large number of products, and so the cost of the Bangles would be ameliorated over the entire lifetime of the campaign. From that perspective, the initial costs need not be kept too low, although, obviously, the lower they were, the better it would be.

No doubt there are many other innovative ways in which a hypothetical Bangle distributor could make money without ever needing to sell a single Bangle, and, equally, many not-for-profit reasons for collecting the kind of information I have been discussing above. Coincidentally, the Flag Foundation of India encourages owners of the Tiranga Bangle to provide remarkably similar registration details flagfoundationofindia in exchange for a reminder email when their Tiranga Bangle is due for recharging.

Perhaps Jindal, having assured India Today's viewers that the Tiranga Bangle is “not for making money”, would like to go back on air to explain what the requested information is used for (including any political uses), who does / will / may have access to it and how long it will be retained.

His contribution would, no doubt, go a long way towards unravelling the confusing tangle of claims that still surrounds the Tiranga Bangle and the Flag Foundation of India.

NB. Despite numerous requests, Mr Jindal has failed to supply me with a free Trivortex Tiranga Bangle.

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