Recently, Rajat Gupta, ex-CEO of McKinsey and one of the most high-profile corporate figures in America, was arrested on insider trading charges. He is accused of having tipped off Raj Rajaratnam, who once ran a hedge fund worth $7 billion. Rajaratnam, who at his peak had a net worth of $1.8 billion, is already sentenced to 11 years in prison. Thirteen others have been sentenced too. This would seem surprising to many who see America as a nation associated with relentless greed, materialism and consumerism.
When we were growing up, we were often told that `western values` are extremely harmful for society. We Indians were supposed to be more humane, loving, caring, spiritual and genuine. The West was an embodiment of all things wrong – from excess consumption to decline in family values. We were the good ones (or is it G1 these days?).
Yet, it is America that comes down hard on people who break other people`s trust. Punishment for taking more than your fair share – whether through insider trading or corruption – is severe. In Gupta`s case, he may not even have benefited directly – he may have merely tipped off his friend as alleged, unaware how that tip would be used. If proven, that is reason enough for the American system to punish him.
Yes, America is materialistic. It is even greedy to a certain extent. However, Americans have created a system in which wealth is created with hard work, innovation, talent and enterprise. People who display these qualities move up. Every generation in Ame-rica has thrown up several innovators and billion-dollar global corporations, made without government connections. Americans may have a hundred flaws, but they are extremely protective of their system. Anyone who tries to break it to come up in life using unfair means is punished severely. Schools and colleges have a strict honour code against cheating. And no matter how high-profile the person, society doesn`t flinch in teaching the wrongdoer a lesson.
We, on the other hand, don`t even have good laws to prosecute the blatantly corrupt, forget insider trading. Many may not even see insider trading as wrong – we see it as a privilege of being in a position of status or power. Any Dalal Street veteran will tell you, despite regulator SEBI`s commendable efforts, insider trading is rampant among the high and mighty. It is not limited to the stock market. The real estate developer who finds out the zoning master plan of the government beforehand, and pre-emptively buys real estate, is also doing insider trading. However, such people are never punished.
In fact, our government attacks almost every anti-corruption crusader. It is as if the current government has taken a mandate to protect the corrupt. The prime minister, under whom the biggest scams took place, remains in power using every excuse – from `he did not benefit` to `he did not know anything`. In almost any other civilised country, heads would have rolled. Sadly, even our opposition parties have lots of corrupt people. Hence today, even if we want, we can`t vote in an honest government.
What happened? Weren`t we supposed to be the good ones? And yet, it is the greedy, western `baddies` who seem to be doing a better job at being just, truthful and equal. They are not only richer; they seem better too. It is disheartening to face this ugly truth. After all, the poor person is supposed to be the better person – at least that`s what they show in the movies.
Well, we don`t have good leaders because in the past we haven`t cared. We`ve only wanted leaders from our caste or religion. We have been enamoured less by honesty, more by dynasty. We do not have a merit-based system that generates wealth, nor anything in place to protect it. They do. Hence they are richer and, in many cases, better than us. The system we have, in which there are a few kings and lots of common people, cannot generate wealth. It kills innovation and keeps the powerful as rent-seeking controllers of resources. It will eventually turn us into a nation of clerks for the world. Innovators will rule the world; we will be left to serve them. We may not get colonised poli-tically, but will economically.
Can we change this? Of course we can. Society does change, even if slowly. There was a time we used to practise `sati`. We realised it was wrong and now we don`t. To change, first let us accept our shortcomings. We Indians lack some essential, good values. Being part of corrupt society has made us all somewhat corrupt. From copying assignments to faking our children`s ages in railway tickets – we have all done wrong or accepted wrong as part of life. We need to define a set of new values and propagate them in our social circles.
We also need to support positive initiatives, like the Lokpal Bill. Individuals don`t matter in Anna`s team; it is their cause that makes sense and needs support. The media and everyone should startcalling Parliament`s winter session the `Lokpal session`, just so our rulers are reminded of what they are supposed to do. The new Indian quest has begun. It is to be rich, and to be good.