By Surendra Kumar
The indictment of Rajat Gupta for insider trading by a tearful 12-member jury comprising eight women and four men has not only shocked his family but the entire three-million strong Indian-American community and hundreds of his admirers world over.
His life story, before the trial, has been a perfect fairy tale of fulfilment of an American dream: orphaned at 18, graduation from IIT-Delhi, MBA from Harvard, first non-American managing director (worldwide) of McKinsey and Co, director of Goldman Sach’s board, director of Procter & Gamble’s board, adviser to the UN Secretary General, trustee of Rockefeller Foundation, adviser of several prestigious companies and NGOs, personally worth $84 million!
He was the brain behind, and one of the founding fathers of, ISB Hyderabad; he contributed significantly to make it a world-class institution. When the government instituted the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, he was the first Indian-American to be honoured. Gupta, at the peak of his career, could do no wrong; he was wining and dining with the likes of Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Kofi Annan.
It is rare for a jury to feel sorry while convicting an accused; Rajat Gupta’s was such a case. Jury foreman confessed, “I wanted to believe the allegations weren’t true.” Another jury member Ronnie Sesso was more emotional, “We wanted him to walk, go home to his family and live a prosperous life.” But in the end, the circumstantial evidence against him was found to be “too overwhelming”.
Everybody is asking why did he do it? Some sum up in four letters: more. Raj Rajaratnam, whom Gupta is accused of helping, was believed to have said in a conversation – taped secretly by the agencies – that the latter wanted to earn $50-100 million without doing much. There is speculation that Gupta wanted Rajaratnam to help his equity fund, New Silk Route. The jury felt that he was driven by his greed. Preet Bharara, Indian-origin Federal Prosecutor who eventually nailed him, also felt sorry for him, “Gupta achieved remarkable success and stature, but he threw it all away.”
A decade ago, one of the top IT company heads was voted the best businessman of the year; he was hailed for his vision and leadership qualities, and considered a pioneer and a role model. Little did the distinguished jury know that he had committed a massive fraud on his shareholders and siphoned off crores of rupees. His name was Ramalinga Raju – founder of Satyam Computers – who possessed an MBA from Ohio University (US). Rest is history; he is being prosecuted for cheating, embezzlement and insider trading.
Not long ago, there was a Houston-based energy company looming like a colossal, Enron; at one time, it was estimated worth $110 billion. Thanks to its CFO and other senior executives who misled the board and pressured audit firm Arthur Andersen to ignore the issues, Enron was forced to declare bankruptcy, the biggest in the US corporate history. Some of its executives are serving jail term.
We have the Joshi couple, IAS officers, in Madhya Pradesh who amassed more than 350 crore in a short span of service. Another smart, intelligent and gizmo-savvy IAS officer in Maharashtra, in his coded messages, used to call bribes as hardware and call girls software. A secretary in the ministry of external affairs, who was responsible for promoting economic relations, was removed from his post and chargesheeted for aiding and abetting illegal emigration. He comes from a well-to-do family and could have lived comfortably without a government salary.
In 1994, Gupta was quoted in the Chicago Tribune to have said that McKinsey stood for meritocracy. But a stage came in his life when he wasn’t content with what he had; he wanted more, he wanted to join the billionaires’ club.
Why do highly-intelligent, successful and meritorious individuals earning relatively high salaries or profits and living a comfortable life take such risks and throw away all the achievements, kudos and laurels? Are they consumed by ambition? Is it their insatiable desire to get rich and richer? Don’t their academic brilliance and meritorious record shield them against such temptations?
When Prof Dipak Jain, the first person of Asian origin to be the Dean at Kellogg School of Management – currently Dean at INSEAD – introduced classes on samskara, morals and ethics, many eyebrows were raised. He was of the firm belief that if the top executives have not inculcated moral and ethical values in corporate management, mega frauds can’t be ruled out from time to time.
Self-discipline (cut your coat according to your length), contentment (to shun insatiable desire to acquire more), foolproof checks and balances in financial transactions and moral and ethical values adhered to by a company do help in avoiding cases of fraud and corruption. But the basic reason why the seemingly successful people resort to frauds and corrupt practices is that they have deleted the Lakshman rekha of the right and wrong from their mental disc. Once an individual stops asking the question what he is doing is right or wrong, that individual can do anything without any compunction or remorse.
Eventually, it is the choice between two contrasting concepts of success underlined long ago by Mahatma Gandhi and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. Gandhi ji stressed that noble goals must be reached through noble means. On the other hand, Deng, who is the father of economic transformation of China, maintained, “So long as the cat caught the rat, it didn’t matter whether it was white or black.” Whether it is 2G scam or CWG scam or mining scam or allocation of coal mining rights, those who perpetrated the scams had not drawn Lakshman rekha for themselves.
Whether it is Rajat Gupta or Raju or Raja or Suresh Kalmadi, they all seemed to be following the dictum of the Chinese helmsman Deng Xiaoping rather than the father of our nation. It is high time we go back to Mahatma and embrace his moral and ethical values and discriminate between right and wrong. That is the bedrock of a just, fair, equitable, successful and caring and sharing society.
(The author is a former diplomat) (Sourced from Economic Times)