Undoubtedly Azim Premji, promoter-chairman of the Bangalore-based computer software and IT enabled services giant Wipro Ltd (annual revenue: Rs.50,692 crore; headcount: 171,425), is India’s most exemplary philanthropist and a role model for the country’s multiplying tribe of weight challenged billionaire businessmen engaged in an orgy of conspicuous consumption. Premji has irrevocably transferred 67 percent of his equity shareholding in Wipro valued at a mind-boggling $21 billion (Rs.1.45 lakh crore) to the Azim Premji Foundation (APF) whose prime objective is to improve and upgrade public school education in India. In addition, he has promoted the Azim Premji University (APU), Bangalore and was the first Indian to sign the Giving Pledge initiated by American billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.
But since your editor launched EducationWorld with the mission to “build the pressure of public opinion to make education the #1 item on the national agenda” in 1999, Premji has exhibited irrational prejudice against this publication. Even when in 2010 EW featured a laudatory 12-page cover story on the newly inaugurated APU, Premji went into purdah and refused to meet your editor for an interview.
Such irrational prejudice can be forgiven as a billionaire’s eccentricity. What can’t be forgiven is that Premji has adamantly refused to discharge a legitimate business debt of Wipro aggregating Rs.1.4 lakh for advertising in EducationWorld. Despite a hail of letters written to the company and Premji, the debt remains unpaid, prompting a legal notice issued to the company last month. Evidently Premji’s business morality is not commensurate with his magnanimous philanthropy.