How to run a successful scam

by Rajesh Kasturirangan in


I received an email yesterday from an organization called the India International Friendship Society, based in Delhi. They claim to be a

a voluntary organization established to forge greater unity and integrity among the people of Indian origin living anywhere in the world.

and one of their contributions to world unity is a conference "on "Economic Growth & National Integration" at New Delhi" where they award "the most prestigious “Bharat Jyoti Award.”" In case you were wondering about the prestige in this most prestigious award, they are anxious to assure you that

Certain cabinet ministers from the Centre and various States, members of Parliament, industrialists, social workers and intelligentsia have been invited to address the event.

and that past awardees include

beatified Mother Teresa, former vice-president B. D. Jatti, Governors like Iqbal Singh Governor Of Pondicherry,  Shekhar Dutt (Governor Of Chhattisgarh) Dr DY Patil (Governor Of Tamil Nadu) Gen J J Singh (Governor Of Arunachal Pradesh) Justice M. Fathima Beevi, Gen. G. V. Krishna Rao, Lt Gen Ajai Singh and Dr. Bhisham Narain Singh; former  Air-Chief-Marshal N. C. Suri, former chief justices of the Apex Court like Justice P. N. Bhagwati, Justice R. S. Sarkaria, and Justice H. R. Khanna; Election Commissioner G. V. G. Krishnamurthy

Their website has pictures of a prominent Indian cricketer receiving the award from the usual clutch of superannuated political types. Other greybeards are prominently displayed on the website as well. Having exhausted their source of saints and statesmen, they are digging into their B-list including yours truly.  Except that I am not the only one being chosen for this honor. A quick google search reveals that the award has been given at least three times this year - Feb 14th, March 27th and May 5th.

I am delighted to be a Bharat Jyoti. I even believe that I am a Bharat Jyoti. Except that India International Friendship Society doesn't know why I am a Bharat Jyoti; they would rather I told them about my brilliance:

Will you please mail us your Bio Data highlighting about your achievements only with latest photograph to reach us at the earliest, by courier.

Since India is full of brilliant scholars, IIFS is contacting academics en masse. Plenty of us are falling for the scam, enough to justify a conference on Economic Growth and National Integration every month this year. The awardees include an IIM Director, a scientist at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, a prominent industrial chemist, a professor at Amrita University, the list goes on. It goes without saying that Bharat Jyoti recipients (I wonder if they paid for it) display the award prominently in their homes and their websites. The scam has managed to get its share of media attention as well: the award has been written about in major national newspapers. The organizers are brazen enough to upload the proceedings on to youtube.

I am confused about the significance of the award: should I be honoured now that I am a light of India, delighted that so many of my compatriots are shining or sad that with so many lights, I will need to burn some extra gas to shine brighter than others? However, I am certain about the basic psychology of the scam, which I have condensed into Rajesh Kasturirangan's three laws of scamming:

  • Appear sincere
  • Play on the vanity of the victim
  • Hand out large but worthless prizes

Fortunately for IIFS, Indian academia is full of dupes. I am tempted to start a prize of my own. I am looking for good names for the medal; any suggestions?