“The devil made me do it” is a child’s excuse for bad behavior. Former NSE CEO Chitra Ramkrishna has sought to justify wrongdoing by shifting responsibility to a “higher” power. The claim that she had no agency and was the innocent dupe of a manipulative guru lacks credibility.
The degree of credulity claimed by Ramkrishna is unprecedented among Indian professionals and bureaucrats. They may bestow their patronage on a guru – as they would a relative or associate – but have not been known to submit to their dictates. No more than a doctor trusts a godman to decide on a patient’s treatment.
Furthermore, the system of checks and balances does not allow individuals unlimited latitude to oblige anyone. Decision-making in a public authority depends on hierarchy and procedure, and is subject to control. Corporate governance also includes established rules and processes. It forces individuals, however devout, to separate their religious and secular roles.
TN Seshan, the man who transformed the electoral process (he died in 2019), was an ardent devotee of Sathya Sai Baba and the Seer of Kancheepuram. But the idea that either could influence his decisions as Chief Electoral Commissioner was laughable.
Despite all its flaws and possibilities for abuse, the system has the potential to bring down anyone, “still be so high”. Even the patronage of a sitting Prime Minister could not shield Chandraswami from investigation or prevent an order for his arrest. Indeed, the infamous man-god has since served as a cautionary tale, and no politician or bureaucrat wants to be seen as acting under the sway of a guru.
Even our famous superstitious politicians who turn to a man-god before an election for a lucky charm, a special puja or a horoscope reading, know where to draw the line. A politician/minister may very well compel his guru in terms of handing out tickets, transfers and assignments, awarding lucrative contracts, hijacking land use standards, etc. But the question of proactively seeking the “approval” of a godman in administrative or political affairs does not arise.
As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi refused to allow any interference in the investigations against the god Asaram Bapu. In fact, a judicial commission was appointed to investigate his wrongdoings. Asaram, who enjoyed the support of BJP heavyweights and had a large following, threatened to overthrow Modi’s government, but the CM stood still.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim is famous for negotiating with his supporters to mobilize votes for political bosses and then sought to intimidate the administration and the judiciary with a show of force. That didn’t stop CBI Special Judge Jagdeep Singh from sentencing him to prison. Similarly, Baba Rampal’s thousands of followers did not stop the Haryana police from executing an arrest warrant for him, although six people died in the process.
For all his influence and access within the judiciary, the bureaucracy and the political establishment, it took Swami Raghaveshwara Bharathi, leader of the Ramachandrapura Mutt, seven years and more than a dozen recusals to gain a discharge. in a rape case filed against him in 2014. A judge can recuse himself in a case, but will not dismiss any case out of hand.
Against this background, it seems unlikely that Ramkrishna sacrificed his career and reputation for a random man-god. An educated woman, especially one of her rank (Forbes’ Woman Leader of the Year 2013), would have been all too aware of the risks involved and could hardly have been brainwashed into putting aside her professional obligations.
Having faith and being gullible are two very different things. The system, for all its endemic corruption, weeds out individuals it deems unsuitable. Ramkrishna could not have risen through the ranks had she come across as naïve and dupeable. Yes, devotion can blind an individual to self-interest. Dozens set themselves on fire at the death of MG Ramachandran. But self-sacrifice is intensely personal. It does not imply its role in the public sphere.
Thus, the National Stock Exchange (NSE) claim that Ramkrishna, by sharing confidential information and following instructions on the details of his operation, was “exploited” and “manipulated” by “Mr. Rigyajursama (the identity assumed by the alleged guru)” as by “the opinion of an expert in human psychology” does not seem plausible.
All of this only obscures the identity of his mentor and their shared motivations. The absurdity of his claims – that the “Himalayan Yogi” was able to teleport – looks like a cover-up. The veil of secrecy that shrouded his interactions with the so-called guru allowed the abuse of process to continue.
There is no denying that the system of checks and balances has failed. The fact that Ramkrishna was able to freely follow her guru’s “instructions” indicates that she enjoyed an extraordinary degree of patronage – but from whom?
Bhavdeep Kang is a freelance writer and author of Gurus: Stories of India’s Leading Babas and Just Transferred: The Untold Story of Ashok Khemka. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.
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