ON THE EVENING OF 9 APRIL, a select group of Delhi’s dapper elite gathered at the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency. After about a half hour’s socialising, aided by an assortment of teas and starters, Chiki Sarkar, the co-founder of Juggernaut Books, introduced the evening’s speakers.
“Whenever we now think of Rajat Gupta,” she said, “we think of a simple question—did he or didn’t he?”
Juggernaut was releasing Mind Without Fear, Gupta’s memoir, which charts his rise to becoming the first Indian-origin managing director of McKinsey, and his subsequent felony conviction in a high-profile insider-trading scandal that shook business circles in 2012. The conviction resulted in a two-year prison sentence, which Gupta completed in 2016. After his release, Gupta sought to overturn his conviction, but in January this year, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit—one of the United States’ 13 appellate courts, which includes judicial districts in New York, Connecticut and Vermont—ruled against him. His memoir, and its accompanying media campaign, seemed to be a final attempt at public rehabilitation.
Until his conviction, though, Gupta’s story was the quintessential template of corporate success that Indian parents envision for their children before packing them off to an engineering college and, later, a business school. He was born to a middle-class family in Calcutta, in 1948. His father, Ashwini Kumar Gupta, was a journalist involved in the freedom struggle. The family soon moved to Delhi, where Ashwini helped start the Delhi edition of the Hindustan Standard, which was, incidentally, owned by Sarkar’s family, as part of their Ananda Bazar Patrika Group.
Gupta was orphaned at the age of 19, when he was still a student at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. He began caring for his siblings with the help of an aunt who moved into their home, which he visited every weekend. Gupta ran the household on a strict budget while carrying on with his active campus life—he was a member of the dramatics club and head of the student government. In his final year, he applied to business schools while simultaneously sitting for campus placements, bagging and then rejecting a coveted job at what was then the Indian Tobacco Company—now ITC Limited—for Harvard Business School.