Thoughts on economics and liberty

Who was the businessman I referred to in my book?

Given what I've said here, it is time to open up about the following two paragraphs I wrote in Breaking Free of Nehru. The two paras are:

Who was this business personality?

The other day, a globally admired Indian business personality came to Melbourne. I knew this person had expressed considerable frustration with the Indian political and bureaucratic system. I asked this person after his speech whether he had any plan for India to move in the direction he visualized. On his replying he had one, I asked him to outline it for the benefit of the audience but he parried my request. I later wrote to him but got no response. Either there was no plan, or if there was one, it was a well-guarded secret.

I mention this incident to suggest that we need to get out of our chronic habit of criticizing without taking action. We need to outline our preferred methods which will bring about the change we want. We need to spell out our proposals in sufficient detail and share them with everyone else. Then we must engage in an open discussion; there is not much point in marking our proposals ‘top-secret’ and locking them up in a safe. 

The answer – no prizes for guessing!

So who was it? No prize for guessing. This businessman was the same person I wrote about in my last blog post – Mr. N.R.Narayana Murthy. The event? The Twenty-first Asialink Lecture, July 2004 (details here).

One of the reasons I bought Mr. Murthy's 2009 book was because I was hoping he would have acted on the suggestion above and provided a clear pathway to reform. Instead, that book is a mere jumble of many lectures, with no underlying theme. Good stuff to fool others, but clearly not the way to take India forward.

I've hardened my position about Mr Murthy after watching him (and interacting with him) closely for over 7 years now. On many occasions we have been in touch; the last was when he got me in touch with Mr Nilekani over a year ago. But by now my patience is wearing thin. At first there were those who counselled patience saying that Mr. Murthy will do something after he leaves Infosys. So, when he retired, I wrote to him – but he said he wan't going into politics. 

In that case he should simply shut up or talk ONLY about his business. For him to PRETEND to care for India and yet continue to support the corrupt is just too much to stomach. And for him to have the gall to say that Indians believe in rhetoric and not action is just too much to take. He is the CLASSIC CASE of talk but no action.

I suggest that he should now declare clearly that he is happy to serve the corrupt and receive awards from them. Then we would know that he is a just another typical 'educated' Indian whose allegiance is to his back pocket, not to his country. That would be fine. We'd leave him alone. What bothers is his PRETENCE of being a values-based leader.

What infuriates me is that he repeatedly, and in public, complains about India's governance: about its corruption, about its bureaucracy and politicians: and thereafter happily consorts with the same people he talks against. How is this a values-based intellectual or moral position?

We need to write him off – unless he reads this blog post and finally wakes up.

With that goes one more hope for India.

For 13 years I have been fighting for greater freedom and for integrity in government in India WITHOUT PEOPLE, WITHOUT RESOURCES. There are simply no people, no resources to battle India's misgovernance (or, rather, now that we have 100+ FTI members, so few people/resources). But good governance does not come free. We need leaders, but we also need funds. India needs a JRD Tata desperately. How much we miss that great man.

I tell you this now, people of India: We – you and I – are now on our own. All possible hope from our so-called 'good' 'leaders' is dead. People like MMS, Shashi Tharoor, and now N. Murthy – all have shown themselves to be SPINELESS. Even worse: small mice sniffing for position and pelf. 

Let's stand up on our own, in our simple but dignified self respect, and work together to take India to greatness. Let us FIGHT these enemies of India. These 'good' people had their chances. They have chosen to support the corrupt. They are now our ENEMIES.

Once again – this is a call to all good leaders to join FTI or to otherwise support it.

A key document related to this case:

I have been in touch with Mr Murthy over the years on numerous occasions. By publishing this I'm throwing a final personal appeal to him – in public: Either do something or let's both agree to stand on the opposite sides – Murthy as a supporter of corruption and enemy of India's freedom; Me as an enemy of corruption and supporter of freedom.

My email of 18 July 2004 to Mr Murthy:

Dear Sh. Murthy, 

1. It was a pleasure to be present on 16 July to hear your brilliant talk on the underlying values of your company and the strategy of excellence and service that underpins its success. I particularly liked your understated sense of humour. I raised a question at the end of your talk seeking your views on how the Indian governance process needs to be transformed. During your reply you indicated a talk or a lecture that describes your view of the model of governance that India needs to adopt. I am keen to get a copy of this model that you cited. Could you please arrange to send it to me? I had a follow-up question, regarding the path that has to be taken to ensure that the model is adopted and implemented. While you did not have much time to go into detail then, I would welcome your detailed thoughts if you can spare time to outline them. My personal focus over the past six years has been on a determining the path that would lead to values-based, liberal governance in India. The model of governance that I have in mind would probably have many similarities with yours. Some aspects of 'my model' are mentioned at:

http://liberalpartyofindia.org/nuke/modules.php?name=Sections&op=listarticles&secid=2
http://liberalpartyofindia.org/cabinet.html
http://liberalpartyofindia.org/policies/
http://liberalpartyofindia.org/faq.html
and  at http://www.indiapolicy.org/debate/notes.html

2. I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback when you did not recollect our previous interaction/s. Since it is important that I keep doing my best to get support for the liberal movement to reform India, I will step you through the following:

a. During June 2003 on a suggestion from Sh Gurcharan Das I invited you to a 5-day workshop on determining India's Liberal political strategy that was organised by the India Policy Institute from 5 to 9 January, 2004. Your response of 4 July 2003 to me and Gurcharan Das is attached below. (copy attached – e-mail 1)

b. On  30 October, 2003 Sh. Gurcharan Das followed up on this invitation. In your response dated 11 November 2003 you indicated that "If you can kindly give me at least 8 to 9 months notice, I will definitely attend the next meeting. But, I am fully with you on this" (copy attached – e-mail 2). There are unfortunately no plans currently for a follow-up workshop in which a person of your eminence could play a meaningful role.

c. In June 2004, Sh. Gurcharan Das met you in Bangalore to brief you on the activities that have been undertaken by liberals consequent to the January workshop. He gathered the impression that you were supportive but would get back to him later.

d. On 30 June 2004, I invited you by e-mail to dinner at my home during your visit to Melbourne (copy attached – e-mail 3). Presumably the notice must have been too short, but I was hoping to get some time to share views and strategies with you during your visit to Melbourne. Now, presumably, this catch-up would be pushed back into the future. However, I'm quite active, as are many of India's eminent liberals, on a mailing list called "executive@liberalpartyofindia.org". I could subscribe you this list – it creates one digest per day. That list would bring you abreast of the issues that are driving a revival of the liberal political movement for reform of India.

In summary:
1. I look forward to your article/ talk on the model that India needs to adopt, and your detailed thoughts on how to get there.
2. I would like to get your consent to becoming a part of the mailing list cited above. At the moment there are around 50 plus members, all eminent people in their own right.
3. The liberal movement in India needs mentors. JRD Tata was the last great mentor of this movement.  I believe your taking over this mantle is crucial to India's future success as a modern nation. We need to do things differently. The old model of governance is no longer applicable.

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11 thoughts on “Who was the businessman I referred to in my book?
  1. raj

    Well, he is like every typical businessman. We can never achieve anything till the people want change. There is hardly any opposition to our politicians and their policies. I have tried my best talking to people and most simply laugh at me. As a nation we are doomed to fail miserably. Let us fail calling ourselves “superpower” .

     
  2. raj

    Well, he is like every typical businessman. We can never achieve anything till the people want change. There is hardly any opposition to our politicians and their policies. I have tried my best talking to people and most simply laugh at me. As a nation we are doomed to fail miserably. Let us fail calling ourselves “superpower” .

     
  3. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    You are spot on, Raj! The ‘educated’ people simply don’t understand WHY India has done well since 1991. They have to appreciate the full logic of capitalism and freedom. Else they seem to think that anything that the government does is fine – and can’t discriminate between what is good and what is bad.

     
  4. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    You are spot on, Raj! The ‘educated’ people simply don’t understand WHY India has done well since 1991. They have to appreciate the full logic of capitalism and freedom. Else they seem to think that anything that the government does is fine – and can’t discriminate between what is good and what is bad.

     
  5. Harsh Vora

    Corruption is becoming almost socially acceptable in India. You will be categorized under the title of a “fool” if you don’t “save” money from honestly paying to the government that hardly does any good for its people. I do, however, respect N. Murthy in one thing: that he displays superior ethical behavior in business. A few years ago I was reading a case from HBS (available here:http://twe.ly/9Ft) which discussed how Murthy, during the initial years of Infosys, bore huge start-up costs for not paying bribes to the government (customs) officials. He didn’t compromise on ethics. But I agree with you in that recently, he has shown behavior which is worthy of being viewed with contempt.

     
  6. Harsh Vora

    Corruption is becoming almost socially acceptable in India. You will be categorized under the title of a “fool” if you don’t “save” money from honestly paying to the government that hardly does any good for its people. I do, however, respect N. Murthy in one thing: that he displays superior ethical behavior in business. A few years ago I was reading a case from HBS (available here:http://twe.ly/9Ft) which discussed how Murthy, during the initial years of Infosys, bore huge start-up costs for not paying bribes to the government (customs) officials. He didn’t compromise on ethics. But I agree with you in that recently, he has shown behavior which is worthy of being viewed with contempt.

     
  7. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Thanks, Harsh

    I know Mr Murthy is an honest man, but in my view that is not enough. I don’t hold him in contempt at all (far from it!), but all I say is that if he is not going to do anything about the issues facing India, and merely complai, then what’s the difference between him and an ordinary journalist? Where is the leadership he talks about? In my view a level 4 or 5 leader is not merely a business leader but a community leader. He shows the right way forward to everyone.

    As you know, I’m looking for citizens – the hardest category of Indian to find (“educated” being a dime a dozen). Is he just one ordinary ‘educated’ Indian? He should remember that at his level, his inaction becomes tantamount to active support for the corrupt incompetent regimes that rule India.

    Not good enough to not bribe. You have to reform the system itself.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

     
  8. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Thanks, Harsh

    I know Mr Murthy is an honest man, but in my view that is not enough. I don’t hold him in contempt at all (far from it!), but all I say is that if he is not going to do anything about the issues facing India, and merely complai, then what’s the difference between him and an ordinary journalist? Where is the leadership he talks about? In my view a level 4 or 5 leader is not merely a business leader but a community leader. He shows the right way forward to everyone.

    As you know, I’m looking for citizens – the hardest category of Indian to find (“educated” being a dime a dozen). Is he just one ordinary ‘educated’ Indian? He should remember that at his level, his inaction becomes tantamount to active support for the corrupt incompetent regimes that rule India.

    Not good enough to not bribe. You have to reform the system itself.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

     

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