New Delhi: Speaking on the Indian economy on NDTV's Your Call, founder chairman and chief mentor of Infosys, NR Narayana Murthy, says that he feels UPA 2 has failed in taking any major economic decision since it came back to power. The main reason, Mr Murthy says, is the lack of quick decision-making, with two people being in charge - Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Here's the full transcript of the interview:
NDTV:Your Call. It's the only show on Indian television where you, the viewer, can ask your questions directly to our newsmaker of the week. Tonight, a man who is one of the most respected business leaders of the country, Mr NR Narayana Murthy, joins us. Thank you so much Sir for coming in.
Narayana Murthy: Pleasure.
NDTV: Let's just look first at the highlights of your life and career. Mr. Narayan Murthy, as an Indian and as someone who is very concerned about the state of the country, what are your views on the current environment that we are in, the current mood of pessimism?
Narayana Murthy: Well, I think this too will pass. After all, every economy goes through business cycles. Therefore, I don't think we should get too much worried. However, having said that, it is very very important that we take quick action, we speed up in areas where we have not done and we reduce corruption. We bring in the second slew of reforms which, which will in fact accelerate our economic growth. Therefore we shouldn't be despondent, we shouldn't be pessimistic, but take quick action.
NDTV: You have just said sir, at the Vikram Sarabhai Memorial lecture that in fact if there hadn't been corruption, our GDP would've been much higher, it could've been in double figures. Why do you think that?
Narayana Murthy: Well the economists have made a study and they have said that a country suffers from anywhere between 0.5% to 1.5% in GDP growth rate because of corruption. And given that we have been anywhere between 8 and 8.5%, if we had contained corruption in a serious way then we could have reached the double figures.
NDTV: Yet we have an economist Prime Minister. A man who you yourself have said you have known personally, to be honest, and I think that's a view held all over India. Why do you think the government seems to have slowed, or perhaps lacks in responding to this then?
Narayana Murthy: Well, you know we have a culture of taking slow decisions, we have a culture of dithering. This is not just at Delhi, it happens in every state. It happens in corporations, it happens in educational institutions. Therefore the need of the day is for all of us to realise that nothing is gained by dithering. Nothing is gained by postponing decisions. You have to take decisions quickly, no matter that they appear unpalatable in the short term.
NDTV: But you see, that is the UPA government, or the government's crisis, now that there apparently is a paralysis in the administration.
Narayana Murthy: Well, if I look at the facts and data then it is true that we haven't had, or you know, taken any decisions ever since this government came back in power in 2009. Which means it is already two years and about three months old. So, to that extent I think we should all be concerned.
NDTV: Did that disappoint, did that disappoint you? I mean, you are of course a personal friend of the Prime Minister. Well, what would you tell him today?
Narayana Murthy: You know, I mean, I understand that he leads a coalition. I understand that, that we have two leaders in, in the whole set-up. There is a leader of the party, there is a leader of the government. So all these things do slow down the decision making; but I think that's precisely why the reason that the Prime Minister must, in fact, take acute note of that and perhaps accelerate decisions. My request would be, to him, would be to take quicker decisions.
NDTV: So are you saying that you don't think this UPA experiment actually works, of having two people in charge?
Narayana Murthy: Well, the reality is that somehow it has not been able to take decisions in the last two years and three months. That's the reality, I mean it's not my statement, it is based on data and facts.
NDTV: What's interesting of course, that I know at Infosys you have enforced this rigidly, is that everyone has a retirement age, including you yourself. Do you think we need that in politics today? I mean we have had the Home Minister come on the show and say that, you know, politicians need to retire after 60, but we've seen increasingly that our most powerful politicians are well over their sixties?
Narayana Murthy: Well, you know the reality is simply this, that in a developing country like India, has to do a lot of things in double quick time. Therefore people will have to work from morning to late night, and that requires that you have lots of energy. And if you want lots of energy, if you want new ideas, if you want a lot of enthusiasm, then it is generally agreed that all over the world, it's not me who is making that statement, data says that younger people would be better doing this. Therefore I think it's a good idea to have politicians retire at 60, when you have bureaucrats retiring at 60.
NDTV: Right. That's an interesting point of view Sir, and frank as always. Your Call is about people asking you questions form different walks of life, and tonight I have a senior CPI-M politician who wanted to ask you something. We have Mohammed Salim. Let's just hear what Mr Salim has to say.
Mohammad Salim: Mr Narayana Murthy, recently you had visited Gujarat. Gujarat is a very enterprising state. You met the Chief Minister also there. You know since 2002 there is a big debate about this genocide, and communal programme and then the violence that took place, the role of the government, the role of the Chief Minister, the role of the top cops, in dealing with the situation that arose during the communal violence and genocide, now is being looking into by the Special Investigation Team, the Supreme Court and a host of agencies. But what is your take on this? The last one decade I don't think that, never you have been drawn to such controversies and you have steered clear of all such things. But as a senior citizen, as a role model, as a universally accepted personality, what's your view on such things?
Narayana Murthy: Well let's remember that I was at Ahmedabad, for delivering the convocation at Ahmedabad University. I was delivering the Vikram Sarabhai lecture. Therefore, when the first citizen of the state invites me, it is my responsibility to show courtesy. Of course I went. And after all what was requested of me, was to be an advisor to an incubation centre, where children of all religions, of all castes, of all classes, were coming together to become entrepreneurs. And therefore, if I were to add value to that it would have children of all religions, all castes, all classes, etc. So, I don't see anything wrong in trying to help the children of Gujarat. Because I have as much love for the children of Gujarat, youngsters of Gujarat, as I have for Karnataka, as I have for Delhi.
NDTV: So, it's not an endorsement for Narendra Modi's politics?
Narayana Murthy: I, I you know as I said, I am not in politics, I don't go into those issues and therefore I think it is my responsibility to add value in my own little sphere, and that is what I am doing.
NDTV: That's a very interesting point really because that is a different form of national service, in a way creating jobs.
Narayana Murthy: Absolutely.
NDTV: But in Karnataka, however, of course the controversy is that IT giants like yourself aren't giving those jobs to local people. They were asking for something like a reservation system as it were, in various states. Why do you think that doesn't work?
Narayana Murthy: Well, the reality in our business is that no matter how hard you try, at best 65% of the jobs will go to local people. We have looked at it at Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, we have looked at it in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, we have looked at it in Orissa, Kerala, wherever we operate, Andhra Pradesh, etc. Because this industry is all about talent, and unfortunately you don't get enough talent from one state, therefore you have to be open to welcome talent from other states. And after all, this is India, we have lured citizens to move from one state to another.
NDTV: Of course.
Narayana Murthy: I mean, you know, I was born in Karnataka, I studied in Uttar Pradesh, Kanpur, I went and worked in Gujarat, Ahmedabad. I mean unless the constitution prevents me from going from one state to another, we should not discourage youngsters to seek opportunities. Therefore, it is the responsibility of companies to embrace meritocracy and give opportunity to people from all states.
NDTV: And of course we see that globally, where Indian are all over the world, only because they are being allowed there despite recent rules perhaps. Let's just go across to somebody who has cited the Infosys model globally - Thoman Friedman joins us on the phone line to ask you a question. Let's just go ahead and hear what Mr Freidman has to say. Go ahead, sir.
Thomas Freidman: Yes, my question is, has the world gotten even flatter? And what will that mean for India, what kind of opportunities and what kind of challenges will that pose for India?
NDTV: It's interesting, the world gotten even flatter despite President Obama and his policies. Mr Narayana Murthy?
Narayana Murthy: Well in some dimensions world has gotten flatter, but in certain other dimensions world is not as flat as we all want it to be. And what is in India, in a flatter world? It is all about opportunities, it is all about jobs, it is about the ability to contribute to the global welfare, it is about solving the problem of poverty, it is about better recognition for India, it is about better opportunities for our young people, it is about many nations coming together, working together, collaborating. So I think it's all about peace, harmony and prosperity.
NDTV: Mr Freidman if I may ask you a question. Sir, as somebody who analyses trends globally, what is your view on the current corruption issues or the government issues that India is facing at the moment?
Thomas Freidman: Honestly, they haven't been reported very much in America. You know, to be honest, we've got our own corruption scandals to be worried about. And right now, so Murdoch seems to have a monopoly on that. So, the answer is no. I mean I can't say it yet, but maybe because we aren't following India close enough, I don't mean to diminish their importance, but I know because they're very important in India, but they haven't been reported much in my country.
NDTV: What's interesting Sir, is that we are also celebrating 20 years of Indian reforms and I think you of course have lived through that period. But I think many people today don't realise when we talk about corruption and what that system is, what that system was like 20 years ago. Could you perhaps tell us the biggest change you have seen now, and we are debating corruption, but what was it like 20 years ago, when you had to wait months to get clearances or had to pay? The only choice was pay a bribe or have to wait to not get it.
Narayana Murthy: Well, you know, for us, those days, it took us about 50 visits to Delhi and about three years to get a licence to import a computer of about $50,000. Second, every month, every month without exception, I had to wait in the corridors of the Reserve Bank of India to send maintenance memos to my own colleagues, Nandan and others who were in the United States doing an important project. Those days you had to come to Delhi and spend perhaps a year or two to get approval from the Controller of Capital Issues to issue your, to have your IPU at almost no premium at all. And you know, we waited for about two years to get a telephone connection in Bangalore.
NDTV: So India, Sir, when you look back at those 20 years, I mean you are not a pessimist, you do feel that India has come a long way, that India has changed so much that we shouldn't write it off at this moment?
Narayana Murthy: Oh India has made enormous progress, absolutely. But, only thing is, a certain section of India has made enormous progress, people like you and me have benefited tremendously from economic reforms, our lives have been transformed in a big way. For example, my children think that I am exaggerating when I am telling them stories of how we were spending times in the corridors of the government, and they don't believe because they have international credit cards, they travel easily, all of that. So therefore, for urban, middle class, and elite India, globalisation or sorry, economic reforms have indeed transformed India. But for the poor, I am not so sure that we have made much difference. Even for them there is an upliftment...
NDTV: A trickle down process.
Narayana Murthy: There is a certain trickle down stuff but not as much as you and I would like.
NDTV: So 20 years later, time for another wave of reforms, I mean Dr Manmohan Singh did it 20 years ago?
Narayana Murthy: Well, I think we have to look at the second slew of reforms particularly in labour flexibility. You know we have to bring about huge reforms in the area of education because talent is going to become a big bottleneck to our growth. For example, Mckinsey estimates that our industry in India can indeed garner about 300 billion dollars of exports in the next ten-fifteen years. And for that to happen we need to have a huge jump in the talent availability, and that talent has to be employable today. According to Mckinsey only 25% of the talent today is employable and we have to raise it to perhaps about 80%.
NDTV: True, as we talk about the demographic divided, I think that really is the key challenge. But you mentioned education, let's just go across to, I think, an institution that is a shining example of that. Patna Super 30, it produces IIT students every year from backgrounds, I mean some of the most backward, economically backward. Let's just go across for some questions to the students of Patna Super 30.
Student: I want to ask you sir that for all the success in life, do you give the credit to hard work or luck or both?
Narayana Murthy: Well, you know, I think whatever little success has come our way is due to two factors, I mean three factors, really. One is character, which is all about value system, hard work, integrity, etc, etc, and second I would say, I mean two factors, second I would say is chance, luck. But again, I mean, as Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favours the prepared mind", and that is where mehnat, hard work becomes very important. As Yogi Berra once said, "Why is it that as I keep working harder and harder and harder, I get luckier and luckier and luckier?" So there, the answer is that character and chance are the two ingredients for whatever little luck, whatever little thing we have done.
NDTV: We'll go across from Patna to Srinagar, where we have got a young man who beat all odds to join the IAS. Dr Shah Faisal joins us from Srinagar, let's just go across to him right now. Thank you so much for joining us and go ahead with your question to Mr Narayana Murthy.
Dr Faisal: Thank you very much. Sir, we have recorded the unprecedented tourist arrivals in Kashmir this year, but unfortunately the investors are still not convinced, they are not still ready to come into the valley. And given that we have a very huge population of educated, unemployed youth and Kashmir does have an advantage when it comes to the software industry, I would just ask you that when is Infosys coming to Kashmir?
Mr Narayana Murthy: Well, first of all congratulations on your very wonderful success. You know I...
NDTV: You had heard about him, of course, he was really a role model to younger people as well.
Mr Narayana Murthy: Absolutely. You know I was one of the earlier business people to go to Srinagar with Prime Minister Vajpayee and Barkha was also there, and at that point of time I did express that we would like to leverage the enormous strength of the wonderful youngsters that you have. But having said that, the reality is simply this, our business requires that our customers travel time and again in the course of a project. And for that to happen there will have to be, you know, stability, there will have to be a sense of peace, a sense of harmony, a sense of comfort, a sense of safety, and I think with officers like you in charge I have no doubt that we will reach that stable state pretty soon. And I can assure you that once we have that stable state, it will be an absolute privilege for us to come there. But let me assure you, let me tell you that we have lots of Kashmiris employed in Infosys in different development centres, absolutely.
NDTV: Dr Faisal is there anything else you'd like to ask?
Dr Faisal: I would say that that period of stability has come, I mean how long more do we have to wait to see that this is the time to come around?
Narayana Murthy: Well, you know it's a good point that you have raised but kindly send me an e-mail stating the various, you know, issues and give us some data and facts because we make decisions based on data and facts. Certainly I would pass it on to the relevant people and we'll come to some conclusion, definitely.
NDTV: That's great sir, let's hope something works out. Thank you so much for joining us Dr Faisal.
What is life for you after Infosys? I mean it's always hard to let go. You've done it extremely graciously, but do you ever sometimes disagree with the decision or you want to pass a tip on or just give some advice?
Narayana Murthy: No I don't think that I have had any regrets. I am very happy that at the age of 60 I became non-executive, now at 65, I am walking out of the company. Because I personally believe that you will have to leave when people are asking why, rather than why not. And many times it happens. So therefore, as somebody who has talked about politicians retiring at an early age, if I don't walk the talk, it doesn't make any sense.
NDTV: Well your presence of course is always felt, so I have to go across now to some Infosys-ians who have this to ask you.
Caller James: Hello, my name is James and I'm over from Cambridge. I'm in the UK working on an internship here at Infosys. I was just wondering, Mr Murthy, we've heard a lot about how difficult it was to start a business in India in the 80s and I was just wondering, what kept you, what drove you on despite all of the difficulties, and what advice would you offer to an younger entrepreneur starting a business in India or elsewhere today?
Narayana Murthy: Well, I think India of today has changed a lot. There is no doubt about it. I think, thanks to the economic reforms, thanks to removing of licences, thanks to the decentralisation of power, in our industry, by and large you know, we don't come across these situations in our industry. Whatever these 2G scams and stuff, because the interface between the government and the industry is so much cleaner today. And I think the moral of the story is whatever Dr Manmohan Singh did in 1991 for our industry, that is, you know, remove current account convertibility, remove licences, and allow 100% equity to multinationals so that there is greater competition and global benchmarking, and finally have the market-base pricing; I think this kind of stuff, certainly in terms of removing licencing has to be done in other areas too. And as long as, in those areas where it cannot be done, there is total transparency and fairness and accountability, I believe that the chances of corruption will get reduced.
NDTV: Right. Well, we talked about Infosys and I remember reading your farewell letter to your shareholders this time. You said that there was, perhaps, one regret you had, which was, perhaps, when there was of course the recent incident with Mr Pai, but Mr Pai actually wanted to ask you this question so let's just hear what he has to say.
Mohandas Pai: If you're the Prime Minister today, what is your prescription to make India grow in the next five years? Thank you.
Narayana Murthy: Well, Mohan you know me very well, so whatever I say, it's not going to be new. I would say I'd focus on speed of decision making, I would focus on excellence in execution, I would focus on making it easy for businesses to expand, to scale out. I'll make it easier for foreigners to visit India. I will make it easier for foreigners to invest easily in India. I would enhance the, I would bring tremendous reforms in the area of education. And I would bring about flexible labour policy by providing a good safety net for workers through better insurance mechanisms, better social security mechanisms and I would make sure that every child in the country has decent access to basic education, basic health care, basic nutrition and basic shelter.
NDTV: No hard feelings there now between you and Mr Pai?
Narayana Murthy: No no no, absolutely not. No no no, he is, I mean I have great appreciation for him. He is one of the most intelligent people I have come across. We work together even now. In fact, both Mohan and I continue to be advisers to Ramdas who is head of infrastructure. No, no, no, no, no, I mean Mohan is a brilliant man and I have learnt so much from him. I've enjoyed some of the finest moments with him, so no, no, no, there are no hard feelings.
NDTV: Right. So, you said that bit about walking the talk and I think that's why you have so many people today wanting to talk and I have a young caller, Karishma, who is a student in Jai Hind College in Mumbai who has a question for you. Go ahead Karishma.
Caller Karishma: Hi Mr Murthy. My question to you is why did you work so hard and make so much money, when you did not have any inclination to spend it on yourself?
Narayana Murthy: No, no, I think our aspiration when we founded Infosys was to create lots of jobs, jobs with good disposable income so that we can start our march towards abolition of poverty in this country. I always believe that the only way you solve poverty in India is by creating jobs. So this was our small attempt in that direction. And in the process you create lot of wealth, and we distributed it. Infosys has you know, has given away 56,000 crores, and if I include the kind of initial equity that I gave to my six colleagues, it is something like 85,000 crores which is the largest in the history of this country, so...
NDTV: But when do, I mean did, these figures actually strike you? That I'm a billionaire many times over? How did that change your lifestyle in any way? Did it change Narayana Murthy?
Narayana Murthy: Not really, you know, for example, today one of the friends had come to see me, and at our guest house and he said, do you really stay here in this? And I said yes, all my younger colleagues stay here and these are the people who work so hard to make the company better, and therefore the least respect I can give them is by staying with them. So I don't feel anything wrong with that.
NDTV: No, nothing wrong at all, in fact, such a rare example at a time when you've seen the controversy over Mukesh Ambani's house, the controversy over Vijay Mallya's yachts. Do you feel that sometimes there is a bit, when you feel that two Indias there, are some very glaring examples which do put off people?
Narayana Murthy: You know as long as you've earned your money legally and ethically, you should be allowed to spend it whatever way you want. And also lets remember that all the wonderful corporate leaders that we have in the country, they have increased their focus on philanthropy. More and more people are giving more and more money out of their own personal wealth in this country. This had not happened earlier. Earlier it was only Tatas, Birlas and a few others. But today, lots of people you know Shivnath has done, Nandan has done, Chris has done, you know, Mohan has done. Many people have done that. Therefore, I think we will have to be a little bit more forgiving of people, because after all you know, they give a certain percentage of it to people who need it much more than they do and they will use parts of it to build houses and buy yachts, so be it. I don't see anything you know, I don't think what is good for me is what is good for everybody. Each of us will do what we are comfortable with.
NDTV: I read an earlier interview and correct me if I am wrong and you said you don't even have a problem cleaning the toilets in your own house. You don't keep domestic help in your house.
Narayana Murthy: We don't, we don't.
NDTV: You still don't. Did you ever think that you should change or how is it that you managed to stay true to the principles that you set out with so many years ago?
Narayana Murthy: Well, because you know I came from a middle class and I am very comfortable with my middle class upbringing and these things appear very natural to me. I don't think I am doing anything extraordinary by cleaning my toilet or by helping my wife in some of the domestic chores. It's nothing extraordinary.
NDTV: You've mentioned your wife and of course she's got something to say to you, so let's just hear what Sudha Murthy has to say.
Sudha Murthy: Hi, I want to convey this message to Mr Murthy that he should take life more easy, he has worked hard. He should accept life as it comes. He should not set very high standards of Infosys in real life because now we have to accept life as it comes and enjoy whatever time we have and that is my sincere message to him.
NDTV: Can you just enjoy life? Can Mr Murthy just take it easy and relax?
Narayana Murthy: Well I think she's right you know, I mean we have run this marathon so far. It is time for us to enjoy our grandchildren. You know, enjoy the fact that my son is now married and we have a wonderful daughter-in-law, the fact that we have a great son-in-law. She's right but then it's easier said than done.
NDTV: Right. And I just want to take you down memory lane and show you some of your earlier photographs with Mrs Murthy. Let's just have a look at those pictures. There you are a young Mr Narayana Murthy. And apparently in the beginning your father-in-law wasn't too sure of your prospects as a good son-in-law. How did you convince him?
Narayana Murthy: Well you know when I met him first, he asked me what I wanted to do and I was still under the influence of socialism and leftism. Then I said look, maybe...
NDTV: You were a communist once?
Narayana Murthy: Yes I was. Maybe I said maybe I want to start an orphanage. Maybe I want to enter politics and those were not the words that he would expect to hear from your son-in-law or prospective son-in-law, so he was a little bit surprised.
NDTV: Now many years later, as you are looking at life after Infosys, is there any chance of you going into politics?
Narayana Murthy: No, not in politics per se, certainly not.
NDTV: Not politics per se, but you remember of course that so many people had, when the last presidential election came up, said why not somebody like Mr Narayana Murthy for President? Do you think that's a viable, I mean in our current political system it isn't, but do you think perhaps you should change that system?
Narayana Murthy: Well you know, let me not take my example. But I do believe that we have to continue the extraordinary work that Dr Abdul Kalam did when he was the President. And that is, we need a President, we need a Vice President who is very articulate, who is very modern, who can go and exhort the youngsters in the country to work hard, to be disciplined, to realise the importance of this country, to understand our culture, our background and make this country a better place. And that requires the power of articulation. And therefore, I think we should get back to the example set by Dr Abdul Kalam and therefore, I hope the next President and the next Vice President will be people who will bring back the confidence of youngsters in the country, who will realise that this country has had an extraordinary past and it is their responsibility to create an extraordinary future.
NDTV: Well Sir, you have so many ideas, why not share them in public life? We have seen Nandan Nilikani doing it, do you visualise yourself in public life at all, perhaps not politics?
Narayana Murthy: Public life you know, in some way, as we discussed you know, I am going to be the advisor to the incubation centre in Gujrat, I've just accepted to be an advisor to the West Bengal government in the area of IT. I was involved in a committee for evolving the job opportunities for youth in J&K. So, I'll continue to do something, definitely.
NDTV: Very well, as always an asset for India. Sir, we hope that will become a full time role for you Sir. Thank you so much for joining us tonight Mr Narayana Murthy, it was a pleasure.
Narayana Murthy: Thank you.