New Delhi: NR Narayana Murthy, co-founder of IT giant Infosys and a celebrated public figure, thinks the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi should not be ostracised politically for the Gujarat riots in which over a thousand people, mostly Muslims, were killed in 2002 while Mr Modi was the chief minister of the state.
Here is the full transcript of Mr Murthy's exclusive interview with NDTV's Sonia Singh:
NDTV: You are so often described as the leader of industry and I think that doesn't do you justice because you really are one of the few Indian leaders across various fields who are looked up to at a time when there seems to be a crisis of leadership. Where we often look to see, who can lead India now after the next general elections? Where would you look at the issue of whether its governance or even credibility today?
Narayana Murthy: Well, I think the most important need of the day is high quality leadership. There is no doubt about it because at the end of the day, leadership is all about simplifying complex issues, abstracting a few manageable issues out of the morass of complexity, articulating those issues, exhorting people and then achieving results. For example, at this stage of development of India it's very, very clear that the need of the day is to reduce poverty. In order to reduce poverty, you have to create more and more jobs. Second, you have to put in place a very efficient public governance system that will provide basic education, healthcare, nutrition and shelter to the poor. So therefore, there are two agendas there are really... One ensure that we have the fastest GDP growth rate, fastest business growth rate, secondly consequently collect as much taxes as possible third improve the efficiency in efficacy of public governance system so that ever paisa that is collected actually goes to improving the lot of poor. I think these are the three simple but powerful ideas that any leader that comes to power after May 2014 must embrace. And in every one of his or her meetings with his or her cabinet ministers or with bureaucrats or in every public speech, he or she will have to talk about what he or she is doing in encouraging businesses to grow the fastest in the world, collecting more and more taxes and spending it efficiently.
NDTV: Its very interesting you said that because then you are talking about leadership of ideas today we've seen that all the discourse whether its political or media discourse is about leadership of personality so we always see pitted about Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi or even now Arvind Kejriwal are we focusing too much on personalities or do we actually need a person do you need to actually have these ideas accumulate around a person who can convey it?
Narayana Murthy: I think you know that is where people like you have to play a very important role and that is we should have television debates amongst the possible Prime Ministerial candidates in different cities. You do it in Delhi and somebody else does it in Calcutta, somebody else does it in Bangalore etc. and there you have to ask them about their ideas, you have to ask them about their vision, you have to ask them about their commitment to making this country a better country, what their ideas are, how will they do that like it happens in the US Presidential debates.
NDTV: Do you think that is a model that works here because for instance you know the Gandhis and even the PM are very opaque to communication. Narendra Modi is much more articulate, he is available on social media etc. but again stays away from press conferences or debates in that sense. Arvind Kejriwal is really accessible but questions are raised on whether he has the team to back up his ideas. Where do you think India isn't used to the model you have outlined?
Narayana Murthy: Well you know one of the most important attributes of a great leader is the ability to communicate I don't know of a single successful leader in history of this world who couldn't communicate well whether it was Mahatma Gandhi, whether it was Abraham Lincoln, whether its George Washington, whether its Martin Luther King Jr, whether it was Winston Churchill... you name it. Every one of these people could communicate extremely well therefore our leaders must be ready to communicate that is their primary job they have to raise the confidence of people, they have to give new hope to people, they have to walk the untrodden path and then discover the extraordinary potential of this country and convert it into reality.
NDTV: Do you think in that case Narendra Modi has an edge over Rahul Gandhi?
Narayana Murthy: I am apolitical therefore as far as I'm concerned I'm quite happy whether it's Mr Rahul Gandhi or Mr Narendra Modi or somebody else that doesn't matter to me and I'm also not sitting in judgement on who is better who is not better all that I would say is this we have to give an opportunity for the potential leaders to communicate their vision for the country, communicate their plan for the country, communicate how they will bring back a GDP growth rate of 9% for the country and that is extremely important therefore I would say the minimum requirement for any future leader has to be the ability to communicate clearly and to the point and in a way that it enhances the energy and enthusiasm of people.
NDTV: Aam Aadmi seems to have done that, they have managed to their communication skills, their volunteers, their fund collection have really set a new course in politics today what do you look at as admirable in AAP currently and what perhaps you think there are issues especially there are now worries about fresh elections in Delhi what perhaps is some advice you would give Arvind Kejriwal, he's someone you have worked with closely during the RTI days as well.
Narayana Murthy: I have known Arvind pretty well till he entered the political arena and then of course I have had no contact with him because as a matter of principle I don't align myself with any political party but I must say that Arvind truly did something extraordinary and that is he has demonstrated to the Indian public that it is possible to succeed without too much of money, to win 40% of the 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly with the little resources that he and his people had is truly extraordinary that I think is a good model in fact Mr Rahul Gandhi also commented on the model of AAP so therefore I would say that Arvind has brought a new sense of confidence to people a new model of political parties to succeed tomorrow imagine if a group of people in Bangalore, Bombay, Calcutta, Chennai, Hyderabad and other cities were to learn the lessons of Arvind and AAP and then say we too will try this experiment then there will be a huge change in the country today we have probably have about 130-150 seats coming from the urban area, towns and cities and semi-urban areas, if these people become a block in the Parliament post -2014 I think they can do a lot of good stuff.
NDTV: And going beyond caste and identity in that sense.
Narayana Murthy: Absolutely, that's the good thing about being urban people, you know we don't align ourselves much on these parameters.
NDTV: Interestingly, we've seen a situation where there might be fresh elections in Delhi because the BJP has said that we don't want to go looking for more MLAs and AAP has said we do not have the mandate. Some worries about how, when we look at actual Governance, that this isn't the way forward, there has to be some way where a party which has won such a mandate must actually take the power and govern.
Narayana Murthy: I agree with you. I think in the interest of the state of Delhi, in the interest of quick and efficient public governance, we have to come out with some legislation that says whichever is the party with the largest number of seats will form the government, doesn't matter even if they are in the minority and it is the responsibility of the opposition to provide support to them on an issue basis in so far as they do things that are good for the society, they shouldn't oppose it.
NDTV: But the much larger context in the debate today is of course secularism. We have seen that the BJP says that secularism is used as a mask. Pseudo-secularism, Narendra Modi says, 'India first', 'development is my mantra'. Do you think we now need to go beyond labels of secular and communal because Mr. Modi's opponents will raise issues like Gujarat against him?
Narayana Murthy: No I think secularism is very important. It is fundamental because in a pluralistic society like India, we want every India to be enthusiastic about the future. We cannot let anybody feel that he or she is a second class citizen, therefore secularism is extremely important. But it should not just stop at secularism, it should go beyond that and that is where development becomes extremely important, development on a platform of secular democracy, that is the need of the day.
NDTV: Many critics of Mr. Modi would say Corporate India supports Narendra Modi and they ignore issues like say unequal development that the Gujarat well-built model actually beyond on paper, Mr. Digvijay Singh and various Congressmen raise this often, you've been to Gujarat many times, you've worked with Mr. Modi, do you accept this argument?
Narayana Murthy: No I don't accept that argument because I have been to Gujarat, I am the chairman of Gujarat Enterprise Institute, I have worked with Mr. Narendra Modi, I have met him several times, I have tremendous respect for what he has done in Gujarat. We must all give credit where it is due. If you look at the power situation in Gujarat, if you look at the road situation in Gujarat, it is better than most states that I have been to. So why don't we simply accept that this man has done something good. We have to be fair to people.
NDTV: So you think sometimes the whole debate whether its Prof. Amartya Sen, or Prof. U.R. Ananthamurthy saying that we don't want to, Mr. Modi shouldn't be the PM of India, do you accept that argument?
Narayana Murthy: I think we have to go on the basis of whoever is the best so far as development based on a secular democracy is concerned. Whether it is Mr Narendra Modi, whether it is Mr. Rahul Gandhi or whether Mr Arvind Kejriwal or somebody else, that's fine.
NDTV: And you don't think that Gujarat riots are an issue, which should stop Mr. Modi from becoming Prime Minister?
Narayana Murthy: No. We had had riots in Delhi. I mean, while certainly as I pointed out earlier. I think it will as long as people recognise their stakes, as long as they show a sense of contrition, I think that should be fine. I think, there is no human being as perfect. There have been lots of riots in India, so the important thing is, for us to say, we will correct what happened. We will move forward in a positive way.
NDTV: There is that rumour floating around and may well be only in Delhi's power circle that perhaps Nandan Nilekani, your old colleague could possibly be the Congress' PM candidate, would you support that?
Narayana Murthy: You spoke about the importance of ideas. I don't know if you have read Nandan's 'Imagining India'. In my opinion, it is the finest book on the issues of contemporary India. I have not seen any other political leader or any leader who aspires to be in politics write such a nice thing after perhaps after Jawaharlal Nehru. Therefore, I think it is easy to dismiss somebody like Nandan saying 'no, who is he?' But the reality is if we want progress, if we want this country to develop fast, then we have to provide opportunity for every smart, honest, patriotic Indian to contribute to the betterment of the country. I won't say who should be the PM, but I have no doubt at all that if this country has to has a great future, then people like him who are smart, who are patriotic, who have worked hard, must play an important role. It doesn't matter who it is, I am only taking him as an example.
NDTV: Another lesson some would say from the recent assembly elections is people have also compared to different models of development. When you look say for instance at the welfare populism, some would say the Congress party vs the BJP states which have also had some degree of welfare schemes and populism but have combined it with growth and development, do you think that is really the conflict or the two ideas that we are going to see before us in the elections and India in a sense has rejected this state welfare populism.
Narayana Murthy: As I spoke right in the beginning, the need of the day today is first say, how can we make the GDP grow at 9%, 10%? How can we make sure that our businesses grow very fast? How can we attract huge foreign direct investment on the one hand, then you collect more and more money and you use that money in the best way that will help all people, so I don't want to get into a debate whether this scheme is right or that scheme is right, first of all I am not an expert, but I know one thing, that is, unless you collect enough taxes, unless you spend that money efficiently, we will not succeed. Even Rajiv Gandhi himself said that for every Rupee that we spend, hardly 15 paise goes to the people. Therefore, the need of the day is, make businesses, reduce friction to business in this country, so that businesses grow fast, collect lot of taxes and use that money very well. I think that is all there is to it.
NDTV: Its interesting, the BJP and in its vision document is also looking at a radical model. They are looking at abolishing income tax and actually raising an expenditure tax. Do you think we need innovative out of the box ideas, do you think it's even workable?
Narayana Murthy: I think we certainly need that. Let's remember this is a poor country. In a poor country if you start introducing expenditure tax, either you will end up exempting most of the people, because most of the people are poor, and therefore you will not collect too much money, or you will impose such heavy taxes on the expenditure of the rich that they will not spend. So I don't know whether that is a great idea but I am not an expert in that field so I don't want to comment, but I do believe that there is nothing wrong with the income tax as long as we allow businesses to grow fast, I think then things will be alright. Today there is so much friction to business in this country.
NDTV: Well, you are saying that of course because you are back on the hot-seat at infosys as well and we are talking about leadership, and many had asked when you came back that was there perhaps that showing a larger malice in India today, that the failure of leaders to create the second generation etc, now that you have been back for a while, Infosys has shown good results. What is your perspective now on your second stint of leadership as it were?
Narayana Murthy: You know right now we are entering the silent period therefore I will not be in a position to comment on that.
NDTV: One interesting thing that Bharat Ratna Professor CNR Rao said. He said that the people in the IT industry are so unhappy nowadays that's why there has been this high rate of suicides etc. Is that something that worries you as an industry leader? Because we have seen various suicides being reported of IT professionals across companies including in Infosys though for personal reasons.
Narayana Murthy: I have tremendous respect for Professor CNR Rao. I don't think he has studied this industry in depth to pronounce such judgement. A person of his stature should not be wasting his time pronouncing judgement without going into details. That is all that I would like to say.
NDTV: Virtually I think everyone in India is prepared for the 2014 general elections because there does seem to be a feeling of drift. We talked in the beginning about what you would like to see for a great Indian leader today but do we need to look at a larger issue of not just looking at politics as a separate segment of Indian society but what do you think India needs to do now to come out of this malaise and general sense of drift?
Narayana Murthy: I think if the party that comes to power was to take a few quick decisions like Mr. Narasimha Rao did in 1991 when he became the Prime Minister, then I think the confidence of the people will be back, the confidence of foreigners in India will be back and then will create a positive spiral. So the need of the day is for the whosoever becomes the Prime Minister to take a few important decisions pretty quickly and then communicate that he or she means business so...
NDTV: That's interesting. As we end tonight, AAP tapped into a deep disillusionment with the political system. Delhi's voters in essence gave no mandate to either. They defeated the Congress badly and not really a winning mandate to BJP either. Do you think the disillusionment is what is keen? Or do we need to look out at positivity on how we can actually change political system? What's the larger message which goes out with the Delhi mandate before 2014?
Narayana Murthy: I think the Delhi mandate has taught all of us that you can win elections if you have a few powerful messages. It has also taught us that you can win elections without too much money. Third, it has taught us that, you can quickly ready a group of people to win elections. I think these are all very important messages. And the corollary of all of that is, that you should never ever underestimate your opponent. That is very, very important message.
NDTV: I think integrity is something which is been rediscovered in Indian political system and I think that is very crucial. Do you think that's a value which needs to be preserved today?
Narayana Murthy: Absolutely! Integrity was always required, is required and will be required! Integrity in action and as important integrity in thought. That's very - very important. Because I have seen Ministers and politicians using the latest mobile and saying, "I don't believe in technology!" I find it very strange! That means there is no integrity of thought. So, we have to have integrity of thought and integrity of actions.
NDTV: Mr Narayana Murthy, thank you very much Sir for joining this evening.
Narayana Murthy: It's a pleasure.