Indian middle class stunned into silence!

Members of the Karnataka Assembly and Legislative Council take exception to his remarks on national anthem and Cauvery water issue. Mr. N.R. Narayanamurthy, the Infosys founder and mentor, had never doubted his luck. He earned his billions, made his name and became an instant middle class icon. The new generation uppies look up to him as their role model and so fashioned their ideals and ideas of a new lifestyle.

But this time, this demure-looking everyone’s favorite corporate face is an unhappy man. Police force has been deployed in his corporate headquarters in the Infosys at Electronics city, following reports that the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike activists might storm his office against certain remarks he made the other day.

He has had a run of luck all his life once he established Infosys as India’s top software services company and raised it to international attention. The company has so many firsts to its credit. So, whatever he said, on so many topics, outside his domain commanded great attention and media coverage. He, of course, has always been a very careful man with what he chose to say in public and he also carefully cultivated an image of a humble but morally committed man to high standards of corporate values etc.

Now what happened in Mysore the last Sunday (on 8th April, 2007) when the President of India was present in his campus with some 5,000 trainees were present has led to an uproar in the state Assembly and the Legislative Council on the subsequent Tuesday.

When the President of India was present and when the time came for singing the national anthem it was not sung as usually is done, by a chorus, almost all those present taking part in the singing. Instead, this time the national anthem was sung through the instrumental version. Says Narayanamurthy himself in a statement, after the controversy broke out in the public domain: “We played the instrumental version of the national anthem so that we could all sing along, and all of us did so. We wished to share the pride of being an Indian in the gracious presence of our President. We are informed that this is as per protocol.”

What is missing in his statement is the fact that as he himself said to the press in Mysore on Sunday after the controversy broke out, that “the company had cancelled the arrangement made for singing the national anthem during the president’s visit as it felt that the foreigners, present on the occasion, should not be embarrassed while singing the anthem”. This remark only angered the public at large and the legislators, and senior leaders of the all major parties took exception to Mr.Murthy’s understanding of the importance of the issue of how to sing and show respect to the national anthem.

In fact, it looks that Mr.Murthy had slipped badly on this occasion and he somewhere showed up his total lack of any grasp of the issue and on a sensitive issue like showing respect to national anthem, a respect that we all teach to our children and all children in the schools are also taught, a great achiever like Murthy could commit such an unpardonable mistake.

This mistake needs to be corrected in all seriousness and of course, the issue can’t be dismissed as one of minor slip of the tongue or any sudden failure on the part of the organizers. He himself in the post-event press conference admitted they made arrangements the company had arrangements with five people to sing the anthem but later preferred to opt for the recorded version. Mr.Murthy himself had the insensitivity to offer an explanation citing the presence of the foreigners in the gathering! That is quite unacceptable for the public at large. Though he offered to correct next time, the next time might not come so soon!

Of course, the political leaders who took part in the Assembly and the Legislative Council are all senior leaders and one cant brush with the same brush when we think of such seniors like Dharam Singh, Siddaramiah, H.K.Patil and J.C.Madhuswamy JD-U) and Vatal Nagaraj (Vatal Paksha) and even the others Basavaraj Bommai (JD-U) and Mukhyamantri Chandru (BJP) and others.Siddaramiah and Vatal Nagaraj of course used very strong language and that should make everyone uncomfortable, to say the least. Mr.Murthy’s contribution to make what Bangalore and India is today in the international economic arena can’t be minimized by such outburst, we have to remember.

The Home Minister M.P.Prakash has said that the government would call for a report from the Mysore police and once the report is at hand further action would be taken as per the law.

Mr.Murthy also spoke with some insensitivity on the Cauvery water issue by asking in a rhetorical manner that” if vehicles are burnt or bandhs are observed will Cauvery water will come to Karnataka?” Of course this remark also enraged the public and the political leaders. Bandhs and protests are part of any democratic rights of the people and in a highly sensitive issue like Cauvery waters issue the people are rightly agitated and for a corporate leader of the stature of Mr. Murthy this is another big slip. His explanation that the company shut down and worked subsequently on a separate day is no explanation for why he made such an insensitive remark on the feelings of the people. His explanations for both the mistakes don’t show the thoughtful man he is supposed to be. That is a great pity indeed. That again shows that the corporate culture he talks so much about, about transparency etc are a bit of out of context when such sensitive issues grip the minds of the public.

Now, the point is that the  media that has been consistently friendly  to Mr.Murthy has also done its job by printing alongside the news item the status of the law on the national anthem and what the disrespect to national anthem would bring about. That is the irony of sorts.

There is a National Honor Act 1971 which would apply to those who “intentionally prevents the singing of the National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing” shall be punished with imprisonment and a fine”.

Constitution: Article 51A (a) of the Constitution casts a duty upon every citizen to respect both the National Anthem and the National Flag. Supreme Court (Lalu Yadav case in 2005): Not standing in the attention position during the national anthem is not prima facie a crime.Though it is the moral duty of of a person to stand in the attention position when the national anthem is played. But if they do not do so, then, prima facie it is not a crime under the Prevention of insults to the “(the media report is not complete). The Supreme Court (in 1987) There is no provision in law which obliges any person to recite the national anthem provided he is respectfully standing when the anthem is being recited.
NB: Taking this occasion I want to comment on the sort of society we are evolving in India at present. Our democratic society is vigorous, the democracies the world over look upon Indian democracy as a solid achievement. Democracy means freedoms to citizens and also what is not realized by many, even among the opinion makers and the policy makers, democratic freedoms also impose certain responsibilities on the citizens. In a democracy citizens are equal irrespective of their economic and social status. Given this perspective, any citizen however high and powerful he or she might be, must exercise certain restraints. So, Narayanamurthy’s rather understanding of  his rights and duties as a citizen are is rather not yet fully mature.

There is one more lesson here for the new economy millionaires and billionaires like Narayanamurthy. Capitalism with such speedy creation of such wide disparities of wealth also causes certain jealousies and envies, no doubt among the less fortunate in our rather still backward society and economy. So, in a way Prof.U.R.Ananthamurty is right when he made the remark that men like Murthy don’t connect with the mass of people, as they should or as one would expect.

Yes, these neoriche might have started life as lower middle class individuals. Now, having made it big, they must realize that capitalism never had gone down well with the elite, the intellectuals and particularly, the Indian people. There are various reasons. One important reason is that any society that experiences sudden rise in equalities, in wealth and status, goes through some convulsions. Man yearns for a sense of sharing, fraternity and equality of opportunities and social bonding. It is here the new capitalists have to be extremely sensitive to the ground level realities. So, Narayanamurthy and men like him have to ponder over the many social responsibilities that rest on them.
 
Anyway, now it looks from the news reports, letters to editors and given his iconic status in the scheme of things the current controversy will not fade away so soon, though we all wish it does so.

Given the nature of the issue and the feelings of the people over the twin controversies and with all of Mr.Murthy’s not so convincing explanations and given the stature of the man it is better the issue is closed for the good of all.

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