Credibility is the biggest challenge that India faces: Narayana Murthy, Founder, Infosys--Economic times
R Narayana Murthy, who still solves differential and integral equations, believes that solutions for India lie in deeds, not words. In a rare and exclusive interview with ET, the founder of Infosys said the middle class is seeking outcome-based governance and pointed to Gujarat as an example. Excerpts:
What are your views on Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi?
Well, I know both of them very well. Both are extremely well-intentioned people. Rahul Gandhi is very idealistic and a very decent human being. He has real concerns for the downtrodden. Modi is a good administrator. He is a very open-minded person. He has demonstrated in Gujarat that individuals can maybe make a difference. I think either of them, with suitable advisors, will really be able to bring about positive changes in the country.
How do you see the national credentials of Modi?
Let us remember that after all the secular credentials of all are at the same level. In Gujarat, we had the unfortunate incident of one community suffering; we have had the same thing in Delhi as well, when Mrs Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards. We know what happened in Delhi after that. So many innocent Sikhs were killed and so many Sikh families were under tremendous fear. And the government kept quiet for several days. It's all on record. I am not telling you anything new. So I don't think any of these coalitions can claim to be more secular than the other. That's the reality. The issue, therefore, should not get down to who is more secular. Therefore, our question will have to be, who can lead the country to make it a better place. I think both Rahul Gandhi and Modi will do a decent job.
Does business have a role in setting the political agenda?
I finished reading a book on intelligent governance for the 21st Century. It is by a think tank, which has brought together several leaders from various successful countries in the world. Their conclusion was the right amount of governance is what combines democracy as it is practiced in the West, with the meritocracy as practiced in China and Singapore. What they concluded was that with elected democracy you need to bring selected government system based on merit, knowledge and expertise.
What is your view?
I agree with them that while you need the voices of people to be brought into the sanctum sanctorum of legislative power there is also a need to bring competence, expertise into these halls of power. You need to mesh the voices of people with expertise and meritocracy. For example, when I listen to the discussion on Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament, very, very few are using data or facts to either support or oppose it. Most of it was theatrical, silly jokes and not in keeping with the high standards of parliamentary democracy that the founding fathers of this nation aspired for. Therefore, there is some value in us aspiring for a good blend of elective democracy and selective meritocracy, knowledge, competence and experience.
Can this model work for India?
Already there is a sense of desire, at least among the urban middle class, for outcome-based administration, competencies, for measurable progress. You have seen this. People are talking about Gujarat. I hope that as we move forward, such a desire will get accredited to norms, and no other mode can be used to get elected except based their ability to deliver value.
What about the selective part?
Hinduism has an enormous capacity to absorb from outside influences and accept it in a peaceful and steady manner without perturbing the system. Therefore, I don't think you will see any major revolutions in the country. Bringing about big changes in India is not as easy as you and I would like. I won't say that it is unlikely, but it will take much longer period in India than other countries.
You travel a lot. What are you hearing from business leaders about India?
I think the whole issue over Vodafone... Once the current government overturned the ruling of the Supreme Court, people are not certain that the next government, especially if it's the opposition, will not overturn the current decisions! I think the permanence of rule of law, the stability of the rule of law is very important. Unfortunately, we have not demonstrated that.
Have things changed in recent weeks?
Even the retail policy that the government has pushed through did not see the same amount of acceptance or the same level of enthusiasm. We have the possibility of some Indians setting up supermarkets; some of them have already done so. Maybe my friends abroad do not see the logic of preventing outsiders. Because if you say it's going to affect the mom-and-pop stores, you have already allowed Indians to start supermarkets and it has not affected the mom-and-pop stores.
What is the biggest challenge that India faces?
It is our credibility.
Is the political system broken?
No, I wouldn't say that the political system is broken, except that we need leaders from all political parties to demonstrate integrity. Whether a party is in power or not, what is good for the people should remain good for the people. What is good for the country should remain good for the country.
How can people like you facilitate this?
I don't know if people like me can do anything. There are a lot of very smart politicians on both sides. It is for them to come together on issues that help create jobs in a country like India. We have a role in electing the right candidates by voting for them. The principle of democracy is all about delegation of power by the vast majority of citizens through a few chosen representatives chosen on merit and competence.
What are your thoughts about your own participation in public service?
I think in a country like India, where you have 600 million people less than 35 years or so, it's very important that people like me who are past 65 years take a backseat and don't dabble in active public life. I have no such interest and the country will be safer with younger people.
But if you are called upon to do so?
If I am called upon in an advisory role, I think it is the right role for the elders. Those of us, who are 65, should at best provide advice. That's my personal view. I have demonstrated sufficiently in an area, where I had that opportunity. I have walked the talk and I don't need to do anymore.
Do you see a public role for yourself?
I am already involved. I am the chairman of the National Payments Corporation of India which will play a very important role in financial inclusion. I am also the Chairman of the Public Health Foundation which will play a very important role in bringing better quality healthcare to the poor sections of the society.
Azim Premji has signed up for the Giving Pledge what do you think of his move?
I stand up and salute him, he is an extraordinary role model and I would say let God give him long, happy, productive and even more prosperous life we need more people like him. We have Nandan Nilekani who is doing a wonderful job I wish him the same. We have Kiran Mazumdar- Shaw,Mohan Pai and Gopala krishnan who are truly concerned about making this a better country. My former colleague Dinesh is involved in various activities that make this a better society, I wish everyone the very best.
Why is it that there are so many public spirited people in Bangalore?
I don't know if it is Bangalore weather. I would say it is the culture -parenting, what brings you joy, what brings you sorrow, how you spend your time, what friends you have - is what makes you and me enthusiastic about making this a better society. It is all about culture not weather.
What informs your decision-making?
I use data and facts I also realise that the need of the day is to act quickly with whatever information you have. No point waiting days months and years for analysis. Lots of classmates were so much brighter. The only thing that I can claim for myself is my focus on action. I think the moral of the story is that as Indians we will be much better individuals as well as a country if we focus on quick action. The government introduced the Innovation University Bill eight years ago. The government decision to have visa on arrival was taken four years ago - still Bangalore does not have it. I can give you zillions of examples of how this country has remained backward, remained at the bottom of the human development index simply because we do not believe in action.
How do you keep up such a hectic schedule?
As long as you are happy with what you are doing the physical strain does not matter. It's all in the mind
Have you thought about relaxing for some time?
I read a lot. Just before you came in I was playing Mathematia - on my Mac Air - invented by Stephen Wolfram a PhD in Physics from Caltech who has developed a wonderful package featuring differential equations, simulations. I keep myself amused.
You still solve differential equations?
Takes longer than it did 10 years ago but it challenges me mentally and I can then sleep well.