A tragedy of Greek proportions, this is the story of an Indian icon at the centre of the biggest insider trading case in the history of the United States of America. On 24 October 2012, Rajat Gupta, former head of the worlds most respected management consultancy firm, McKinsey & Co., was sentenced to two years in prison by a New York court for securities fraud and insider trading. Why did this happen? Based on extensive research, including transcripts of FBI-wiretap conversations, Fallen Angel is an insightful account of a remarkable man and the extraordinary events surrounding him: this is the real story of Rajat Gupta, an orphaned immigrant from India who managed to reach dizzying heights in the US corporate sector. Although the verdict is out, the mystery remains: several jury members were in tears after delivering the verdict, and nearly everyone who has known Gupta believes he is innocent so what really happened? With its almost thriller-like cast of real-life characters, Fallen Angel is a page-turner that explores the complex layers of this human drama.
The author, Sandipan Deb, joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on his book 'Fallen Angel: The Making and Unmaking of Rajat Gupta'.
Q. This is not a question but a comment. Loved the book Sandipan. And loved the title as well. Lucifer... Asked by: Babita Baruah
A. Hi, Babita. Thanks! I owe the title to my brilliant friend Shovon Chowdhury. The moment he suggested it, I knew it was just perfect!
Q. Do you think with Gupta's sentencing, the whole issue of insider trading and market fixing in the US has been successfully addressed? Asked by: Sundeep
A. Sundeep, yes, it was the biggest insider trading racket busted in US history. But insider trading, among all stock market scams, is the easiest to bust. The much bigger frauds and the utter recklessness that led to the 2008 Wall Street crash and global financial crisis (whose effects we are still suffering from) has hardly been addressed. People who made much more money and ruined the global financial system are roaming free and are richer than ever. There is always the complaint that the US Government went after the easy targets.
Q. Don't you think you flatter the man by calling him angel, albeit a fallen one? Asked by: Sanjeev Pandiya
A. Sanjeev, Rajat Gupta seemed to be the perfect man. Really. His life and career are astonishing and inspiring. Till the day that he.... And all his friends that I spoke to still can't (or refuse to) believe that he did something illegal. He was a role model to a lot of Indians. That makes it all the more tragic. "Fallen Angel" is a reference to John Milton's Paradise Lost, where Lucifer is God's most devoted angel, and then...he falls and becomes Satan.
Q. Do you see another twist in the story of Rajat Gupta? Asked by: Sunil
A. Sunil, not really. He may win his appeal against the New York Court verdict, but I think his reputation is tarnished forever.
Q. Sir are there any lessons for a aspiring business journalist from this case? I would imagine in writing about him one would have never guessed that beneath the veneer there was all that greed lurking. Asked by: Pooja C
A. Pooja, I met Mr Gupta several times some years ago when I was writing a book on IITs and IITians. Of the maybe 50 highly successful IITians I met, this was the one man I simply couldn't fathom. I came away with the impression that either he was a perfect man or he had built a perfect wall around himself that was impenetrable. Frankly, I still don't know what it was. But I believe he is guilty. The evidence is overwhelming. As a business journalist, one must always keep that scepticism alive in oneself. Remember, the person you are meeting always wants to give the best impression of himself/ herself. One has to be always aware of that.
Q. Are there any other books in the pipeline? Asked by: Priya
A. Yea, Priya, two in fact. One is a project for Bennett & Coleman, which completes 175 years this year. The other is a very ambitious project with Rupa about the makers of the Indian economy, from ancient times to today. And there are always ideas floating around in the head. For example, I want to write a sequel to my novel The Last War, which is a re-imagining of the Mahabharata set in the Mumbai underworld. I want to do a reportage-based book on India, travelling around the country by road...But I don't know when I'll find the time to do all that.
Q. Is the story of Rajat Gupta an eye-opener for the finance industry in India? (where insider trading is reputably rampant) Asked by: Krishnan
A. Krishnan, it should be an eye-opener. Especially for the regulatory authorities. In India, inside trading is almost a way of life, and hardly anyone ever gets caught or punished. People here have done much much worse than Rajaratnam or Gupta and have been laughing all the way to the bank.
Q. Hello Sir, I read your book with great interest and I loved it. I want to be a writer too. Can you give some tips? Asked by: Honey
A. Honey, tips to be a writer? That's a very tough one. I think one should just read a lot (there's no escape from that) so you appreciate what writing is, what great writing is, and what wonderful writers there are. Read everything, don't be biased, and then form your opinion and learn to appreciate the art and craft of it. Figure out the tricks great writers use. And then, write from the heart, but with discipline. Tough, that. But following your heart is important. Trusting your judgement. Having faith in yourself, and not be afraid of rejection.
Q. Can we expect you to get back into full-time journalism again? I mean editorship. Asked by: Amitabha Bhaduri
A. Amitabha, Seems unlikely at the moment. The reason is simple: I now choose my work, work from home, take breaks whenever I feel like, so it's difficult to imagine going back to a regular day-job any more. But if there's something exciting...who knows? I have always lived my life open-ended. And yes, there's nothing more exciting than creating something new. I have been fortunate enough to be associated with (in some cases, led) several such projects: Outlook, Outlook Money, Open. That's a real thrill. So I don't know really :-)
Q. Is there book on finance that you'd recommend? I loved your book. I also love the ascent of money by Naill Ferguson Asked by: Rupsha
A. Rupsha,Too Big To Fail, by Andrew Ross Sorkin, which is an amazingly detailed account of how the 2008 crash happened. Also, anything by Michael Lewis. And if you are looking for intelligent and controversial entertainment, P.J. O'Rourke's Eat The Rich, a right-wing non-economist's analysis of the whole field of economics. Great fun.
Q. If a similar incidence happened in India people like Rajat would have easily gone scot free. Do you agree? Asked by: Srinivasa
A. Srinivasa, Absolutely. There are several big Indian industrialists I can name (but won't) who have done much much worse and never even been taken to court. They should all be actually in jail, serving out long sentences.
Q. Why are we so excited about it? Because he was an Indian? Asked by: Kumar
A. Kumar, yes, certainly because he is an Indian. And remember, he was possibly the most respected Indian the global corporate world and the philanthropy world. And everything he had done till now gave no indication that he would ever fall from grace like this. It was shocking.
Q. Why did you name your book Fallen Angel because Rajat Gupta was not an angel anyway? Asked by: Raja
A. Raja, I've already replied to a similar question. The reference was to John Milton's Paradise Lost, where Lucifer was God's most devoted angel, and then he fell...and became Satan. Gupta's life and career had been a truly inspiring story--as I mention in the book, he seemed the perfect man--an angel almost. We will never know what went wrong to cause this disaster. But till it happened, he was a man you could wholeheartedly admire.
Q. Sir, you think the US government is targeting Asians? Asked by: Aniruddha
A. Aniruddha, No, I really don't think so. I think they needed to do something after the huge Wall Street debacle of 2008, and insider trading was the easiest crime to go after, rather than the actual much bigger things that had gone wrong. And it's just a coincidence that a lot of people involved in this particular insider trading racket happened to be Asians. But all the big players in this racket, other than the Sri Lankan-born Rajaratnam were Americans. (Rajat Gupta in fact was a very minor player in the whole scam)
Q. I really loved 'Fallen Angel'. You are a great writer sir. Can you share some writing tricks? Asked by: Jyoti
A. Jyoti, I get asked this a lot, and I have no clear answer. When you write, you write for yourself, and also for the reader. So...I suppose, be clear in your communication, don't use a word more than you need to do, and revise revise revise. I am an obsessive reviser, cutting and replacing words till the last moment. And try develop an objectivity towards what you have written. Stand back, read it and ask: am I making a fool of myself? Be ruthless. It's a lonely activity, and you have to be ready to take criticism, however unfair you may feel it is.
Q. What is your writing schedule like and do you write everyday? Asked by: Anu
A. Anu, I write every day. I have columns to write for Mint and livemint.com, for Mail Today, and other book projects. I am a thoroughly indisciplined and lazy guy in everything else in my life, but as far as writing goes, I think I am as disciplined as Sunil Gavaskar! I have great respect for deadlines, and of all the things I do in my life, I love writing the most. So that disciplined part of my life actually is not too difficult for me. Sometimes, maybe once a fortnight, I take a break, lie in bed, read. Reading replenishes me. I realise how well, how much better so many other people are writing, and I feel charged up. I love writing. True confession :-)
Q. Sir, if we wanted to go after insider trading in India, who should be responsible for it? SEBI? After all, the SEC really didn't go for it, the prosecutor did. Asked by: aditya
A. Aditya, Yes, it would be SEBI. And SEBI can always be helped by honest financial journalists. The Harshad Mehta scam was broken by Sucheta Dalal in the media, and then the government went after it. Trouble is, many of our financial journalists are possibly compromised, and SEBI's performance has not been stellar.
Q. Like you, I am also trying to write many books at the same time. Do you think I will goof up? Asked by: Raja
A. Raja, What sort of a question is that? How on earth would I know? :-) Just do what you love doing, follow your passion, and all my best wishes for you!
Q. An IITian to a journalist... What has the journey been like? Asked by: Manish
A. Manish, I am very proud to be an IITian and those years at IIT were perhaps the most enjoyable in my life. What an engineering education really gives you is not a knowledge of technology (tech keeps changing and you have to keep learning) but an objective way of looking at life, how to solve problems, how to do what you have to do etc. So my IIT education has come in very helpful in my journalistic career. Let's say that IIT gave me confidence and a scientific temper, the very valuable quality of doubt (which is really the basis of all human progress, one can say), and the experience of dealing with all sorts of people, especially freaks and intelligent people (they are often indistinguishable), and these things have really given me an edge.
Q. One has to face criticism as a writer I suppose. How easy is it to accept it? Asked by: Shikha
A. Shikha, In the beginning it's very tough. You feel hurt, violated in fact. Then you get used to it. You accept it. People have views. They may seem unfair, and you can't do anything about it. The important thing is to respect the right sort of criticism, ignore the wrong sort, and never lose confidence in what you believe in.
Q. I think Indians get away with the same things Rajat did by simply sharing their 'inside' knowledge with as many people as they can, including politicians. Difficult to trace the mole that way, I think. We are true democracy, aren't we? Asked by: Atul
A. Atul, Yeah :-), if you put it that way. We are the kings of jugaad, finding loopholes, and crony capitalism. We are like this only!