It’s a joke. But Raj Rajaratnam isn’t smiling.
The Sri Lankan American hedge fund billionaire is feeling aggrieved – and not just because he was found guilty of all 14 counts of insider trading.
The hedge fund billionaire is mad at his friends, or more specifically his Indian friends, for throwing him to the tigers.
“Every bloody Indian co-operated (to nail me) – Goel, Khan, Kumar,” Rajaratnam told writer Suketu Mehta in an article in Newsweek.
Rajiv Goel was his Wharton classmate. Rajaratnam loved his wife’s chaat. Roomy Khan was his employee at Galleon, his hedge fund. Anil Kumar was another Wharton friend and a McKinsey employee. His son worked one summer at Galleon.
Little brother betrayed
Rajaratnam wants to turn the narrative of his fall from grace to be one about inter-cultural treachery, not personal failings — “a man from a smaller South Asian country seduced and betrayed by the Big Brother country.”
Hmmm. Sorry, Mr. Rajaratnam I don’t think that Et tu Brute sob story flies. There is no reason to believe that had Rajaratnam been an Indian, the Goels and Khans and Kumars would have closed ranks around him in some Indian blood brother pact of silence. Or that they should have. how hard he tried to belong to that
This is Wall Street. Not Sholay (a 1975 action-adventure Hindi classic film that exemplifies deep friendships). There are no Veerus and Jais here singing “Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge (we will never break this friendship).” The coin-toss is always loaded. And once the FBI really cracks its whip, almost everyone dances like Basanti (the heroine of the movie).
But the Rajaratnam story does reveal the strange and precarious position India’s little brothers occupy in our imagination.
In The World According to India, a cartoon by Siddharth Singh that recently went viral on the social media networks, Sri Lanka is summed up in one sentence.
“Tiny as shit but can play great cricket. Also, Ravan lived here.”
Nowhere is our dadagiri (gangster) swagger more apparent than in the United States, where South Asia is just a long-winded way to say India.
South Asian = Indian (except when it’s not)
So you could have a South Asian film fest that’s almost all Indian films or a South Asian group on campus with one lonely Nepalese person holding up the “rest-of-South-Asia” banner. If there is a board looking for a South Asian member, chances are that member will be Indian. “What can we do?” said a board chair of a pan-Asian arts organization apologetically. “We don’t really have room for two South Asians on the board. The Chinese will object. I am not sure desis (slang term for Indians) in Silicon Valley will give money if they are approached by a Pakistani. And there are just more Indians out there.”
Indians will say the other South Asians are just being too sensitive. But Indians are loath to being clubbed with other South Asians, say ‘Pakis’ in Britain. And other than notable exceptions like SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together), you won’t see too many Indians speaking up when other South Asians come under attack.
But when being a South Asian is a plus, we have no problems being the biggest kid on the block, hogging all the umbrella space and letting the rest of SAARC squeeze into whatever nook or cranny they can find.
When Rajaratnam was snared, an article in the Daily Beast promptly talked about “the insularity” of desis on Wall Street, the “ethnic clubbiness.” As if that was any different than the WASP old boys club that had closed off the upper echelons of Wall Street to people like Rajaratnam. In that case we just called it networking.
But what is truly tragic and poignant about the downfall of Raj Rajaratnam is how hard he tried to belong to that Indian club.
He not only hired Indian friends, leaned on them for tips and went on holidays with them, he put his money where his mouth was. He gave $250,000 a year for three years to South Asian Youth in Action, a Queens-based NGO. He gave a million dollars to start an Indian School of Business in Hyderabad because Anil Kumar and Rajat Gupta asked him.
“I later found out they never contributed any of their money, and are listed as the school’s founders,” he said bitterly. “And I’m not even a f*****g Indian.”
I’d bet my money that Rajat Gupta, philanthropist that he is, would not give a million dollars to set up a Sri Lankan School of Business in Colombo.
More sinned against than sinning
Now there is already the beginning of the subtle narrative that will present Rajat Gupta as the person who gave his friend tips but didn’t really benefit from them. “It is not criminal. He never benefited,” said Washington-based philanthropist Mahinder Tak to News India Times. In fact, Gupta even lost a $10 million investment in a fund Rajaratnam managed.
Stay tuned for the rehabilitation of Rajat Gupta somewhere along these lines.
From available reports the prosecution has not sought to establish this, a fact that alone enhances the prospects of acquittal for Gupta. Let us hope that this happens, because he has an unsullied record.
The fact that he was elected thrice to lead McKinsey, one of the world’s leading consulting firms, by its partners and the first non-American to be so chosen is proof enough that he is a professional to the core who will not commit the indiscretions of the kind attributed to him.
But there is nothing left unsullied here – no good, just the bad and the ugly.
This, in the end, is a story about betrayal all around.
If all that mass of wiretap evidence is true, Raj Rajaratnam betrayed every code of business ethics out there.
His Indian friends were happy to holiday with him as long as things were good, but betrayed him when the going got tough.
Rajat Gupta allegedly betrayed the trust of the corporations who entrusted him with their secrets.
The whole sorry story betrays the hard-earned image of the hardworking, honest immigrant, built up by countless cab drivers, gas station attendants and H1-B software engineers. Instead, now we have the narrative of the immigrant who comes from countries where rules are elastic and their upstanding children, like prosecutor Preet Bharara, grow up in America imbibing a different value system.
But the biggest betrayal is that of a dream of exactly what the Daily Beast derides – a high-profile desi boys club with true clout. Not for ill-gotten gains but one that could have broken the glass ceiling, that could have nurtured, supported and mentored other desis without thinking about national origin.
Instead we have the sorry spectacle of a South Asian cabal that stabbed each other in the back.
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