Rajat Gupta is no criminal, he's just an Indian

The curtain finally came down on Rajat Gupta, who lived the American dream as the retired head of McKinsey & Co and as a director at Goldman Sachs, when he was convicted by a federal jury on Friday of leaking confidential information to Galleon hedge-fund manager Raj Rajaratnam.

Gupta could spend as many as 20-25 years in jail. But for what? For leaking confidential information?!

Many thousands of kilometres away, in India, many of us are bemused by the accusations and the conviction. A man goes to jail because he shared information with a friend? By that yardstick, half of India would be in jail.

Facing jail. AFP

Knowing people in power and to benefit from the knowledge and contacts that they possess is the ladder to success that Indians have recognised centuries ago.

It's an ethos and a culture - and it's deep-rooted. You're in an advertising agency and a well-known brand calls for a pitch. The first question that does the rounds in an agency is not 'do we understand this category well?', but is, in all cases, 'who do we know in that company?'

You're in the business of manufacturing cast-iron manhole covers, and a close friend is working in the government department that is responsible for the purchase of cast-iron rainwater storm pipes. He gives you a heads-up, you add storm pipes to your repertoire. You can, because you know him. He can, because he knows you.

That's the first step to insider information, to an unfair advantage.

But that's what India is all about - having the contacts and taking advantage of the contacts to give one an edge. There's nothing wrong in that - everybody does it.

That's the problem. The moment everybody does it, we forget that, in the first place, what is being done IS wrong. And when everybody does it for decades and centuries, it's so much a part of us, part of the way we behave and interact.

Often, those in power proffer information that is confidential and sensitive without even being asked to do so, only so that they can demonstrate the power that they wield. So you have an IAS officer who will proudly talk about what transpired during a meeting with the minister, an executive assistant who will brag about what the chairman said to the managing director while he was present - and you have a driver who will regale you on the celebrities' antics at a dinner at his employer's house.

That's another inherent part of all of us. The need to show off, the need to drop names, the need to demonstrate how important, how rich, how powerful we are.

That's what dragged Rajat Gupta down. He continued with his Indian trait, forgetting, tragically, that the trait is acceptable in India, the land of his origins, but not in America, the land he had adopted.

In India, what he seems to have done would have increased his popularity, wealth, appeal and power. In the US, the same act causes him to lose his reputation, his popularity, some wealth - and his freedom.

Rajat Gupta has paid a price for being Indian.

Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 09:21 AM

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