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Rajat Gupta's PR blitz shows a never-say-die spirit, but the stains on his corporate suit are not easy to wash

The first thought that occurs on a Monday morning when leading Indian newspapers carry prominent interviews with Rajat Gupta is a simple question: Why is this man so suddenly accessible, so elaborate and so articulate? And the answer could be: He is compelled to discover a new career in public relations under duress and compulsion after serving a humiliating two-year prison term in the US, the land that made his dreams come true before turning a nightmare.

This much can be said: Gupta does not give up and prefers elegant denials and obfuscation of issues to having a change of heart that remains smartly hidden under expensive, well-cut business suits that match his groomed hair and chiselled jawline. Appearances matter a lot, and sound bites even more when you are trying to do the near-impossible task of winning sympathy and understanding after losing a tooth-and-nail battle to deny criminal charges of corporate irregularities. Gupta says the evidence in question was circumstantial and not substantial despite his conviction based on taped evidence.

Gupta is now back in the land where he was nurtured to sell his book, Mind Without Fear. But his accessibility is less about the book and more about a desperate need to salavage his reputation. He doesn't really need the money from its royalties.

The manner he has chosen to do that is rather unusual. He says he has "forgiven" Raj Rajaratnam, the Wall Street hedge fund manager of Sri Lankan origin he blurted out corporate secrets to while sitting on the board of Goldman Sachs, one of the world's biggest and most respected investment banks.

One would think Gupta would be looking to seek forgiveness from the shareholders and the corporate community he betrayed for letting out insider secrets that helped illegal share dealings, not offer a pardon to the man prosecutors proved was a partner in crime. But then, this is unrepentant Rajat Gupta. Sport a nice tie, and never say die.

There is much in the book, from what it appears, that would kindle the imagination of writers in Hollywood or thereabouts, at least for a compelling Netflix series. Gupta meets Rajaratnam in prison, and they reconcile on past demeanours. This would be maudlin were it not for the fact that Gupta is targeting the American judicial system and piling up innuendo on Preet Bharara, the Indian-origin federal prosecutor who completed the South Asian drama in the New World's courts.

 Rajat Guptas PR blitz shows a never-say-die spirit, but the stains on his corporate suit are not easy to wash

Rajat Gupta, former Managing Director of McKinsey, Reuters

Bharara, described once as "cocky and overreaching" does remind one of Mumbai's encounter cop Daya Nayak , who acquired dubious fame for targeting gangsters in controversial shootouts. But then, the white-collar attorney was meticulous in his vengeful style through which he proved that he was sworn to the system of justice in his adopted homeland: enough to blast the myth that South Asian camaraderie may result in a miscarriage of justice.

“I am an orphan. Immigrant. Businessman. Leader. Philanthropist. Role model. Convicted felon," Gupta now says. But it is difficult to gloss over facts in a random pastiche of evocative imagery.

Gupta was pushing through his long trial to prove his innocence until evidence did him in. More important, Gupta could not have held the blue-chip positions he held as babe in the corporate woods of America. An IIT-an who went on to become the worldwide managing director of McKinsey, the awe-inspiring global strategy consulting firm, and as one whose boardroom aukaat (standing) was in the same league as the Davos first-listers, his admission that he was being loose-tongued in recorded conversations that sent him to prison is a little too rich. Remember, he co-founded the Indian School of Business (ISB).

Sometimes, media vitriol is not good enough to digest judicial cholesterol.

Gupta's tale holds lessons for all of us, perhaps. In understanding that a momentary lapse of reason can bring down life-long achievements. In knowing that a fine line divides trust and mistrust. In realising that sometimes, early repentance works better than belated realisations. In thinking that power is an obligation as much as a privilege.

“The first duty of government is to protect the powerless from the powerful," said the code of ancient king Hammurabi, circa 1772 BCE, in one of the world's earliest known written legal codes. Rajat Gupta was most certainly powerful. Given his professional pedigree and the high standards one would expect from his kind, his own admission of his loose tongue is as good as a confession.

Wall Street is no abode of virtue. For every Gupta, there are men in blue with shades of grey who indulge in colourful acts of corporate transgression. Gupta points to wrongdoings that led to the global financial crisis that erupted in 2008 as he insinuates that his prosecution could have been linked to diverting attention from the crisis.

Some will certainly feel some pity for the man. It pays to recollect how some of his Indian friends took the initiative to defend his sagging reputation as the trials that eventually sent him to prison peaked. Some public relations can certainly apply soothing balm on stained reputations. Tell-all books can kindle debates and set new standards of conduct. To that extent, Gupta's new avatar can be useful to policy-makers, historians and corporate honchos alike. It would still be a good idea for him to say sorry. We haven't really heard anything that sounds remotely close to that.

(The writer is a senior journalist and commentator. He tweets as @madversity)

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Updated Date: Mar 25, 2019 15:00:05 IST