The two-year prison term by US judge Jed Rakoff to Rajat Gupta, the former McKinsey & Co. chief and the poster boy for Indian-Americans, is a cautionary tale for all those who manipulate financial systems for personal gains. For India the sentencing is a bitter reminder of how distant our dream of justice for all and equality before the law remain despite constitutional provisions and repeated assertions by the judiciary. Article 14 of the Right to Equality guarantees every Indian equality before law and equal protection of law. And yet we know from anecdotal experience, from media reports, from right to information disclosures, how untrue that is.
Here are three important lessons that the Rajat Gupta sentencing reiterates for us:
1.For justice to be effective, it has to be swift: Once the charges had been filed, the actual trial in the Gupta case lasted a month. The wire-tapping of his conversation started only in 2008. By 2012, Gupta has been tried and sentenced. By contrast, the Bofors case took 25 years for its denouement. More than two years after investigations in the various scams during the Commonwealth Games began, the CBI is still filing charges in various cases.
It also has to be sure. Once Gupta’s guilt had been proved, there was never any doubt about his sentencing. Those who came to his aid – Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Kofi Annan – merely sought leniency in light of his past record.
2.It was never a witch hunt. There is a larger goal: That of cleansing and seeking accountability for systemic corruption in the financial services business. In the process, the justice department went after the highest and the mightiest on Wall Street as well as some of the most gold-plated boardrooms of corporate America.
In the last three years, at least 70 traders, bankers, lawyers and corporate executives have been convicted of insider trading crimes. This wasn’t a political battle or a settling of past scores or even a victimization of Asians-come-good, as some reports had suggested. No. This was a reinforcement of a financial system with the aim of rescuing the market system, so central to the US, from the clutches of manipulators and fraudsters.
3.Everyone is equal before the law: Gupta’s past record as global head of blue-chip consulting firm McKinsey, as Goldman Sachs director, even as a proven and acknowledged philanthropist cut no ice with the judicial system. “He is a good man,” judge Rakoff said of Gupta. “But the history of this country and the history of the world is full of examples of good men who did bad things.”
How often do we hear of a dynasty’s contribution to India’s freedom struggle or of the sterling past record of a public figure as defence against current offences? We saw just a month ago how the entire government machinery including ministers and governors jumped to the defence of a “private citizen” because he happened to be related to a powerful political family. It is repeated cuts and nicks such as these that have corroded the foundations of our democracy. If we resemble a “banana republic” today, it isn’t by accident but through a conspiracy of gargantuan proportions in which our political class has exploited our passivity.