31March

Billionaire envy claims all manner of victims

Sadiq Batcha and Rajat Gupta probably never shared anything in common during the former’s lifetime. They are like chalk and cheese. While Gupta personified everything that a brilliant Indian student aspired for professionally, Batcha did not come remotely close to an IIT or IIM admission. He would never have been invited to Davos or any other high profile business forum though he may or may not have undertaken frequent clandestine trips to the neighboring cities of Zurich and Geneva like most of Raja’s accomplices did and continue to.

Sadiq Batcha and Rajat Gupta probably never shared anything in common during the former’s lifetime. They are like chalk and cheese. While Gupta personified everything that a brilliant Indian student aspired for professionally, Batcha did not come remotely close to an IIT or IIM admission. He would never have been invited to Davos or any other high profile business forum though he may or may not have undertaken frequent clandestine trips to the neighboring cities of Zurich and Geneva like most of Raja’s accomplices did and continue to.

 

Gupta chose the far more level playing fields of US to express his brilliance and the country reciprocated in full measure to anoint him as the first non Caucasian honcho of what had till then been an impregnable western bastion, management consulting. He rode this juggernaut to still more rarefied destinations that no Indian professional manager had ever been.

But now that the damning Rajaratnam tapes are in public domain, Gupta seemed to have been afflicted with a disease that usually consumes lesser mortals – “billionaires’ envy”. And in this, he has turned out to be no different from the late Batcha who reportedly sought inspiration from one of India’s biggest billionaires. The billionaire in question has never been known for his unimpeachable governance or ethical standards.

The alarming takeout of this congruence of uncontainable greed as demonstrated by Gupta (still at the allegation stage) and Batcha is that most Indians are clearly after money by whatever means. The straight and narrow methods of Narayan Murthy and Azeem Premji don’t seem to inspire as many Indians as crony capitalists do. Raghuram Rajan, one of the few squeaky clean advisers to our Prime Minister, said as much recently when he pointedly referred to the increasing incidence of Indian cronies appearing in the Forbes list of the super rich. Shahid Balwa was one such dubious entrant in the not too distant past. Following economic liberalization, Harshad Mehta had become a more inspirational personality for most young Indians than those who painstakingly  followed the middle path.

We are a corrupt nation because we want to be. Our politicians are not imposing corruption on us. They are acutely aware that the key stake holders in the Indian system i.e. bureaucrats, police officers, journalists, entrepreneurs and even some judges are beneficiaries of corruption and would like sharp practices to continue. Very few in India embrace competition. There are hardly any takers for “level playing fields” among entrepreneurs. Everyone is jockeying for an unofficial head start. Remember the ‘Bombay Club” and their hand wringing when liberalization was unleashed? Almost every community and linguistic aggregation is demanding backward status as they are wary about competing. No wonder the government runs a million patronage rackets for licences, contracts, jobs and discounted land to appease the “Incredible Indian” who chooses to be known for his narrow identity than go out and take on the world.

Where does that leave an incorruptible entrepreneur and upright professional manager? Previously, they would head for the west but with opportunities having dried up in these shrinking, protectionist economies, the options are severely limited. The government’s only interest is this small constituency is their tax paying ability. Is the Union Budget an accurate reflection of where our taxes go? The unfolding scams triggered by “billionaires envy” suggest otherwise.

Posted in Career Management

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