Religious institutions often have an intimate relationship with money. The hugely rich Catholic Church comes to mind, naturally. There's nothing inherently wrong with this.
People simply should be aware when spirituality gets tangled up with financial dealings, and make up their own minds about what, if anything, it means to them.
In that spirit, someone forwarded me an email message regarding Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) that reportedly has been circulating among members of this India-based organization.
RSSB, as a branch of the Sant Mat ("Path of Saints") religious philosophy, is led by a guru who is considered by the faithful to be God in human form. Or at least, as divinely realized as any human being can be.
The current RSSB guru is Gurinder Singh Dhillon. The email says that he has two sons, Gurpreet Singh Dhillon (age 26) and Gurkirat Singh Dhillon (age 20). I wasn't able to confirm this by any online information, but I checked with the sender of the email and it seems like the information is correct.
(Note: in this blog post I'm sticking to Internet-accessible facts as much as possible. In another post on this subject, I'll be more subjective and share how I feel about those facts, perhaps along with some thoughts from others about the financial dealings related below.)
Gurpreet and Gurkirat are substantial shareholders in a company called Religare. Religare and Fortis, another large Indian company, are part of a family conglomerate headed by Malvinder Singh and Shivinder Singh.
[Update: a commenter on this post wrote, "Malvinder Singh and Shivinder Singh of Ranbaxy are the grandsons of Charan Singh, which makes the current Guru their uncle." This casts a somewhat different light on the facts below, but doesn't affect a central point: spiritual and financial affairs have become intimately intertwined in RSSB.]
As this story says:
Malvinder Singh, who will earn some Rs.100 billion ($2.4 billion) from selling his family’s stake in the pharmaceutical firm to Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo, is now planning to make huge investments in Religare and Fortis, the family’s financial service and healthcare companies. “Healthcare and financial services are two areas where we have existing businesses, where we will make investments,” Ranbaxy CEO and managing director Malvinder Singh said Sunday.
For some perspective, the average per capita income in India is about $1,000 (U.S.), while in the United States it is about $39,000. So millions and billions that seem like a lot of money here are considerably farther out of the ordinary for most Indians.
This helps explain why the RSSB guru's sons, Gurpreet and Gurkirat, each ended up with about 10% of the shares in Religare according to a 2007 prospectus. On page 25 it says that Malvinder Singh and Shivinder Singh were allotted 49,575,000 equity shares in Religare at 10 rupees (about 23 cents) a share.
Malvinder then transferred 6,250,000 shares to Gurpreet Singh, and Shivinder transferred 6,250,000 shares to Gurkirat Singh under guardianship of Ms. Shabnam Dhillon -- almost certainly because Gurkirat is only twenty years old.
The cost also was 10 rupees a share. So the guru's sons each got 6,250,000 shares of Religare for $1,437,500 or thereabouts through an insider deal. The share price on April 6, 2010 was 395.80. Thus, converting into dollars, 6,250,000 shares of Religare currently are worth $55,716,271 (today's exchange rate shows 1 rupee = .022523 US$).
This explains how Gurpreet and Gurkirat appear on a 2009 "Billionaire Club" list of wealthy Indians. They're ranked near the bottom at 364 and 365.
(A billion rupees is only $22,523,000, so it's a lot easier to be a billionaire in India. Interestingly, though, the rupee is worth about 1/44 of a dollar, and the per capita income in India is about 1/39 of the United States per capita income. So seemingly Gurpreet and Gurkirat's net worth makes them the Indian equivalent of an American billionaire.)
The guru's sons seemingly acquired even more Religare shares recently, according to this insider trading report. It appears that each son got 6,183,000 additional shares (for a total of about 12,400,000 shares).
And the RSSB guru himself -- Gurinder Singh Dhillon -- got 26,333, leaving him with a total of 65,833 (or about $587,000 worth).
So the question is... so what?
Well, as I said above, that's a subject for a follow-up post. What I've shared here simply are publicly available facts, accessible to anyone with a web browser via some Google'ing.
As this Indian blogger notes, "Gods and Godmen have always had their role to play in the world of business."
For instance, the patriarch of the Radha Soami sect headquartered at Beas (he is also called the Beas Sant or the saint of Beas) is reported to have played his role in the succession drama at Ranbaxy after the death of then CEO and promoter Parvinder Singh in 1999.
The use of gurus isn’t an oddity in the global business environment. After all they fall in the same category as mentors, executive coaches, and consultants.
Hmmmm. I can't agree with that last statement.
But maybe I have an old-fashioned view of what the role of a spiritual guru is supposed to be. I'll have more to say on this subject in my next post.