Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd
“When you see world class supermarkets and food chains in our towns, and when our urban youngsters gloat over the choice of toppings on their pizzas, why should 51 per cent of children in the country be undernourished?” asks Infosys mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy in his introduction to “A Better India: A Better World”.
A comparison of this kind, which underlines the glaring disparity in income levels in India of the post-1990s, is commonly made to critique the policies of economic liberalisation and the development priorities accompanying them. Of course, the author often described as the “Information Technology czar” of India is far from being against economic reform.
In fact, in the very first chapter, he talks about being on a train along the border between what was then Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, an experience that purged him of “any last vestige of affinity for the Left” and transformed him from “a confused Leftist into a determined compassionate capitalist.”
With this out of the way, Mr. Murthy affirms and reaffirms his faith in the “virtues of compassionate capitalism” (as opposed to laissez-faire capitalism) in several chapters and highlights the “need for broadbasing these reforms for inclusive growth.” The “only solution to the problem of poverty is the creating of jobs with good disposable incomes,” he says, arguing this is an end that can be achieved by entrepreneurs who convert ideas into jobs and wealth, with the government playing the facilitator.
Lest we mistake this as a treatise on business and profits, he repeatedly explains in the 38 speeches compiled here that the “elite and influential” class should have a strong moral conscience and “relate to the reality that is India” with all its contradictions, show “fairness to the less fortunate” and bring “hope and betterment to the millions of poor, uneducated…”
The economic downturn may have dimmed the enthusiasm of many to freemarketeers. But Mr. Murthy, a beneficiary of the 1991 reforms, has unflagging faith in the fundamentals of this regime. Many of the lectures were delivered before India began to feel the full impact of recession. The solution he offers to a range of problems — from urban infrastructure to healthcare and primary education — generally involves large doses of private participation across sectors.
Divided into sections such as “Address to students,” “Values,” and “Leadership challenges,” the articles here are essentially a scattered bunch of thoughts. The format — speeches delivered in different contexts — seems to have provided greater room for “inspirational” aphorisms rather than for the building of an argument in a sustained way. Even when he addresses a complex set of questions, the answers sometimes end up being predictable and anticlimactic.
There are citations galore from people as varied as Mahatma Gandhi and Thomas Friedman. Honesty, hard work, discipline and so on are sometimes advanced as final solutions. There is a tone of avuncular advice running through the book. So much so that it might eminently qualify to be a text book for those who champion “corporate social responsibility.”