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Postscript

Infosys culture war

The ugly slugfest between the promoters and professionals of the Bangalore-based blue-chip company Infosys Technologies Ltd (ITL, annual revenue: Rs.67,304 crore; headcount: 190,000) is reminiscent of the recent showdown in Tata Sons Ltd, the holding company of the Mumbai-based Tata Group (Rs.705,000 crore) in which the promoter family’s wily scion Ratan Tata, who found his successor Cyrus Mistry unwilling to suffer backseat driving, sent the latter packing after a four-year stint, in humiliating circumstances. Similarly, N.R. Narayan Murthy, S.D. Shibulal, Kris Gopalakrishnan and other promoters of ITL who succeeded each other as chief executives after Narayan Murthy without conspicuous success, are finding it hard to stomach the high-risk, big-game hunting style of Vishal Sikka, who was appointed managing director and chief executive of Infosys in June 2014. 

At the heart of the face-off between the aged promoters and the energetic, reportedly rumbustious Sikka is the attempted transformation of ITL from a company which has cashed in on labour arbitrage, i.e, the huge hourly wage difference in the US and Western nations and India for engineers and IT professionals, into a full service transnational corporation. Although Murthy and the promoters aspired to transform the company into a major business consultancy multinational, ITL remains essentially an “IT coolie” company. 

In a new era after the global financial crisis of 2008 and imminent protectionism in the US, Sikka is in a hurry to transform Infosys into a hi-tech business consultancy and solutions multinational. Having set himself the stiff target to boost ITL’s global revenue to $20 billion (Rs.133,276 crore) by 2020, the new CEO isn’t bothered about penny-pinching issues. Operating mainly out of Silicon Valley, USA he has not only convinced the board to pay him a Silicon Valley salary, he has also fired several nuisance value professionals with generous severance packages, which has shocked Murthy and other promoters of the company who pride themselves on their often mean-spirited frugality. For instance, a duly constituted Infosys-EducationWorld Young Achievers Award which involved an annual expenditure of Rs.5-6 lakh was abrogated by Murthy on the ground of “no bang for the buck”. 

Sikka is right. It’s time for Infosys to shed its provincialism and start roughing it out with the big boys worldwide. 

 

Proof of maturity

As a rule, your over-burdened editor rarely has time for popular Bollywood cinema or its regional clones. With their unreal story lines, faux sets, unchecked violence, melodrama and stereotypical song-n-dance routines, Bollywood movies are an insult to anyone with intellectual pretensions. However, the fantastic box office success of Aamir Khan starrer Dangal, produced by the socially conscious actor, marks the long overdue coming-of-age of popular Indian cinema. The unprecedented (and rising) box office revenue of Rs.731 crore of this 141-minute movie has proved perhaps for the first time that it’s possible for an intelligently scripted film with a credible story line to succeed at the box office. It’s proof also of the growing maturity and sense of discrimination of the Indian public, which has been continuously infantalised by coarse Bollywood film producers.

The differentiating feature of Dangal is that it delivers the positive, nation-building messages of gender equality and importance of sports education without being preachy and going over the top. Set in rural Haryana where female foeticide is rampant and wrestling is a popular sport, the movie recounts the true story of an amateur wrestler who overcomes the disappointment of fathering girl children by rigorously nurturing and training them into national and Commonwealth Games (2010) champions. Brilliantly shot in small-town Haryana, Dangal spares us the embarrassment of the main protagonists — father or daughters — intermittently breaking into song on rural hilltops, and all the violence takes place in the ring, according to the rules carefully explained to viewers. 

There are millions of true stories of people who have successfully overcome ubiquitous corruption, abuse and insolence of office and staggering deprivation of opportunity to emerge winners in our diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. The lesson of Dangal is that their inspirational stories can be profitably told and sold by Bollywood which urgently needs to grow up.

 

Bitter socialist fruit

On January 10, 1955, the Congress party then ruling at the Centre and in all state capitals of India, convened a national party conference in the small town of Avadi near Madras (now Chennai). At a historic session of the conference, the party officially declared establishment of “a socialistic pattern of society” in recently independent India as its and the nation’s goal. Leaders of the Congress, stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru assured the nation that socialism would transform India into an egalitarian, classless society. 

According to a recent report titled An Economy for the 99% released by the reputed UK-based NGO, Oxfam (estb. 1942) on January 16, India’s richest 1 percent of the population controls 58 percent of the country’s stock of wealth. This study released on the eve of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos, Switizerland — the favourite conference of India Inc’s industry and business tycoons — confirms a wealth disparity study conducted by the Credit Suisse bank last November which identified Russia, formerly the Soviet Union from where Nehru drew much of his inspiration, and India as the world’s most income inegalitarian nation states.

And the gap between the poor and rich in India is widening. In 2014, the top 1 percent owned 49 percent of the country’s wealth. This gap widened to 53 percent in 2015 and 58.4 percent last year. But Russia — the font et origo of Indian socialism against which your editor has been a voice in the wilderness for nearly four decades — bests India’s inequality. In Putin’s oligarchy, the top 1 percent own 74 percent of the benighted nation’s wealth. Some socialism! 

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