This is a question we’ve been bombarded with every day this past week — “Why aren’t you writing about the NSE scandal, Finshots?”
“Finshots, write about Chitra Ramkrishna?”
“Are you in cahoots with her?”
“Finshots, just write about the NSE scandal. I beg”
Well, there has been so much going on that we thought we’d wait a bit. Get the full facts and report on it. But it seems, we can’t wait anymore. So let’s dive into the story today, shall we?
By now, you’ve probably lapped up everything there is to know about Chitra Ramkrishna, the former CEO and MD of the stock exchange behemoth NSE, and her tryst with a “Himalayan Yogi”. But in case you have been waiting for us to write about it, here’s a brief on the matter.
The National Stock Exchange is one of the largest stock exchanges in the world and it facilitates the buying and selling of financial instruments — including, shares, options and futures. Now consumers rarely ever interact with the NSE, since your stockbroker does it for you. But in the grand scheme of things, the stock exchange is where the magic happens.
But NSE wasn’t always this powerful. It wasn’t even the biggest stock exchange in India. That title belonged to the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). However, since the time BSE was set up in 1875, it was largely run by a coterie of brokers who prioritized their interests above all else. They pretty much set the rules and investors and companies were mere pawns in this enterprise.
But then came the mother of all scandals in 1992. A man named Harshad Mehta found loopholes in the banking system and funnelled a boatload of money to buy and inflate stock prices. And since there was little oversight here, the markets crashed and people suffered in tandem. The government had to do something. They had to make stock exchanges more accountable.
So, they asked the state-owned Industrial and Development Bank of India (IDBI) to help set up a stock exchange that could compete with BSE—Give them something to think about. The idea was to instil a professional management team and digitize everything—Move from paper to electronic share trading. And it worked.
NSE thrived, while BSE lost market share. NSE was innovating with new products and partnering with brokers. Meanwhile, BSE was late to the party. Eventually, NSE overtook the Bombay Stock Exchange.
But wait…guess who was involved in setting up the NSE?
Chitra Ramkrishna of course — the main protagonist of the story. Along with R.H. Patil (the first MD of NSE), Ravi Narain (who later become CEO), and a few other people, the founding team was practically responsible for setting up the NSE and running it for another 25 years. And in the process, NSE, in some ways, became what it once despised — a coterie of insiders with very little accountability.
Like that batman quote — “You Either Die A Hero, Or You Live Long Enough To See Yourself Become The Villain.”
Or as Veeresh Malik wrote in the Times of India in 2015:
“NSE today is like a fiefdom. The SEBI Chairman, CVC Head, Prime Minister of India, President of India and even an Income Tax Inspector, top to bottom is accountable to the Sovereign, the Citizens of India, and all have a limited tenure, however, this is the only organisation since inception that one person has had total control over.
Why? no one has an answer. We all know that in any set-up of any sort, permanence leads to corruption, lethargy, nepotism, and/or all and surely one of them.”
And these comments were made against the backdrop of the infamous co-location scam (albeit, this wasn't public information at the time).
What’s this co-location scam? you ask.
Well, NSE seemingly offered some brokers preferential access to data that allowed them to profiteer off of buying and selling stocks at the exchange. By some estimates brokers made off with profits to the tune of 50,000 crores. And despite denying any wrongdoing, both NSE and Chitra Ramkrishna were fined by SEBI.
Now here’s where things start taking a turn. During the investigation, SEBI chanced upon certain confidential e-mails between the then MD of NSE, Chitra Ramkrishna and a certain Yogi with the email id firstname.lastname@example.org. The e-mails include very specific instructions about appointments, organisational structure, and remuneration. Even about a holiday in Seychelles!
And it’s extremely bizarre to think that one of the most powerful women in India at the time was seemingly taking her cues from a mystic. But that’s not all. The Yogi also seemed to have offered some very specific instructions on matters related to a certain Anand Subramanian.
Who’s Anand Subramanian?
Okay, another detour. When Ramkrishna became CEO in 2013, she walked in with Subramanian and offered him a mouth-watering salary of ₹1.63 crores. In fact, he was offered to join NSE as a Chief Strategic Advisor.
Sounds like an important position.
But here’s the thing. At the time, Anand Subramanian was VP, Leasing & Repair Services at Transafe Services Limited — a logistics company. He had no experience in the capital markets and his previous drawn salary was a mere ₹14 lakhs.
Odd! But no one said a word.
He was soon made Group Operating Officer and almost everyone in the company reported to him. But he was never declared as a “key managerial person” at NSE.
Once again, alarm bells should have gone off considering SEBI (the regulator) explicitly mandates this. But it went under the radar.
By 2016, Anand Subramanian was one of the most powerful people at NSE. He was working part-time as a consultant and was designated Group Operating Officer and Advisor to the CEO at NSE.
Also, he was drawing a salary of about ₹4.21 Crores.
To summarize — Chitra Ramkrishna oversaw Anand Subramanian’s appointment and aided his meteoric rise in the company. She also divulged confidential information with a mystic who instructed her on several matters including matters related to Anand Subramanian. And the board of directors, who were meant to flag these aberrations seemingly didn’t take notice.
Both Chitra Ramkrishna and Anand Subramanian resigned in 2016. Chitra Ramkrishna in particular received glowing praise from the board.
Now bear in mind, NSE isn’t a government-owned entity. In fact, 54% of the company is owned by public shareholders and the rest belongs to a host of institutions including the SBI. But by virtue of being in such a powerful position and “the first layer of oversight”, SEBI strictly regulates stock exchanges.
Which is why they are upset about all this. For now, they’ve fined NSE, Chitra Ramkrishna, Anand Subramanian, and a few other people while also imposing additional non-monetary penalties. They are also trying to figure out who the mystic yogi is, although NSE continues to contend that it’s Anand Subramanian himself.
But what do we make of all this?
What does Finshots think about the matter?
Well, we don’t know. But there are a few theories floating around.
Theory 1: Chitra Ramkrishna was naive and truly believed that the mystic yogi would help take NSE to new heights. Although you have to wonder, why were the two so invested in Anand Subramanian?
Theory 2: Chitra Ramkrishna was in cahoots with Anand Subramanian and the Yogi was simply a decoy — set up by the two parties to avoid suspicion.
Theory 3: Anand Subramanian was the Yogi. He was the puppet master. And Chitra Ramkrishna fell prey to a petty scam. That’s all there is to it. Backing this theory—Your very own NSE.
Theory 4: There is a Yogi. He isn’t faceless. He isn’t nameless. He is quietly operating in the background. And he was the one who coordinated the entire scheme. This theory is further bolstered by the fact that one e-mail exchange* does allude to a meeting in Seychelles — Between Chitra Ramkrishna, Anand Subramanian and…… the mystic.
*And if you want to take a look at the e-mail exchange, here it is
From Yogi to Chitra Ramkrishna
- “p.s, keep bags ready I am planning a travel to Seychelles next month, will try if you can come with me, before Kanchan goes to london with Kaanchana and Barghava and you to New Zealand with two children. HK is a preferred transit or Singapore for onward journey. In case you need help pi let me know Seshu will do the needful. If you know swimming then we could enjoy a sea bath in Seychelles and rest in the beach. I am asking my tour operator to connect with Kanchan for all of our tickets.”
- “Today you are looking Awesome. You must learn different ways to platt your hair which will make your looks interesting and appealing!! Just a free advice, I know you will grab this. Keep March mid a little free.”