Thursday, June 06, 2013

Guess who's coming to dinner?

Harish Khare has a hard-hitting piece on the attitudes of India's corporate chiefs, as seen in Narayana Murthy's decision to come back to Infosys with son in tow. He narrates an incident involving a dinner invitation that NRN gave PM Manmohan Singh in connection with the Infosys Social Science awards function:

In the first week of 2011, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh allowed himself to be persuaded to accept N.R. Narayana Murthy’s invitation to travel to Mumbai to preside over a function to give away the Infosys Social Science Prizes. The Prime Minister even agreed to attend a dinner that Mr. Murthy wanted to host in his honour after the function at the Taj Mahal Hotel. So far so good. A few days before the event, there was a massive behind-the-scenes dust up between the Prime Minister’s staff and Mr. Murthy. The rub was that Mr. Murthy thought that since he was paying for the dinner, he had a right to dictate not only the guest list but even the seating arrangement. However, there is something called protocol and the dignity of constitutional offices. If the Governor and the Chief Minister of Maharashtra were to be at the dinner, they had to necessarily be seated on either side of the Prime Minister, whereas the host thought he ought to be sitting next to Dr. Singh. Mr. Murthy, however, was not one to be so easily rebuffed. As soon as the first course was served, he sought to convert the evening into a grand intellectual conversation and proceeded to invite his son to open the bowling. And the young son wanted to know from the Prime Minister what the government proposed to do so that young men like him could come back to India.

He refutes the suggestion that NRN is free to do what he likes because Infosys is a private company:
Mr. Murthy is not just a private businessman, minding his own business. He has often sought to inject himself into the public domain, telling a thing or two to the political class about how to behave. He has been serenaded as an “iconic” entrepreneur. During the heyday of civil society triumphalism two years ago, there was even a suggestion that Mr. Murthy be made President of India. That was the time when India’s corporate leaders thought they had the ethical credentials to write open letters to the Prime Minister and preach virtues of good governance.
One might add that NRN is not the sole stakeholder in Infosys- it is a company with widely held share ownership in which the promoters have a small stake. This is very different from industrial houses where businessmen have dominant, if not majority, stakes. 

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