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Democratize, friends

Democratize, friends

Sunday July 12, 2015 , 5 min Read

Some legends do things in style and some let history deal with them. A year ago, there was an event which should have been a great talking point, but unfortunately, it did not attract much attention of the high decibel media. I doubt if any of the mainstream TV channels even thought about discussing the issue and its after-effects. The great Narayana Murthy, very quietly, left his own company, Infosys, which he founded along with his friends in the 1980s. His son also resigned around that time to start a new venture. Not long ago, Mr. Murthy was called upon again to help the company which had stepped into some turbulent waters. Only a few dared criticize Mr. Murthy when he appointed his own son to help him out.


Personally, I was disappointed. I thought he, too, would go the way of the old feudal lords and the big Indian industrialists, who perpetuate dynastic control over their domains. However, it turned out that Mr. Murthy was made of a different mettle. He left Infosys in professional hands and bid adieu. From what is evident in the market, the company seems to be thriving. Will others follow in his footsteps? I sincerely doubt it. Almost every successful Indian conglomerate ends up as a family business, and the heirs to the dynasty retain control. Professionals, at best, are offered managerial roles, and even handsome salaries, but that’s the end of the story. Maintaining the bloodline seems to be the ethos of these big business houses.

Sometimes, I really wonder if this is typical of us Indians. Are we not clannish? Are we not overtly feudal in our acts and thoughts? And can we call ourselves truly modern by simply strutting around with the latest gadgets? Is the iPhone 6 carrying generation, speeding up in the latest luxury cars and jet-setting across the globe, in sync with the modern sensibilities? Isn’t there a mismatch somewhere? Is our culture really democratic? I am asking these questions because dynastic legacies are not only prevalent in our business ecosystem - it is even worse in the political landscape. Almost every political party that started as a great movement in the past, fought for certain ideals and values, now behaves like a private limited enterprise. All the parties which were started by great revolutionary leaders, who played out radical roles in their time have by now faded into being regressive reactionaries, and are shamelessly anointing their sons and daughters as successors to the high-powered positions within the party.

The Congress does not merit any mention here because all those who grew up opposing the dynastic democracy of the Congress party have now become their imitators, and worse ones at that. By and large, every state has one or two dynastic despots. If in J & K, there is the Abdullah family in its third generation avatar, then the Mufti family is led by a father-daughter team. Punjab has the Badals; Haryana has the Chautalas, and now the Hoodas; Himachal Pradesh has the Dhumals, and UP and Bihar have entire Yadav clans to themselves, headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav. If Odisha has the Patnaiks, then Maharashtra has the second and third generation Thackerays. Bal Thackeray was no democrat, but now his grandson of barely twenty-five, is giving orders to the big guns in the Shiv Sena. In the south, the Karunanidhi family is a classic example of a revolution going awry. If Telangana can boast of KCR and his son, then TDP is not far behind with the son-in-law of NTR, Chandrababu Naidu, running the party. The humble farmer from Hasaan, the ex-PM, H. D. Deve Gowda has handed over his party to his sons, in Karnataka.

I don't believe that talent is the patent of top leaders of a party and their progenies, and others are born only to follow in their footprints. This does not happen in the USA, UK and other evolved liberal democracies. Every leader has a tenure and a responsibility; and if one fails in its duties, then that leader has to make way for the next. William Hague, at the age of thirty-nine, became a Tory leader in the UK. When he could not win the election for the Conservative Party, he had to step down. The latest example is Ed Miliband of the Labour Party - he lost to David Cameron, and now the party is searching for a new leader.

In India, leaders cannot be removed. Either they die in office or they simply continue. Sometimes we have to ask, if it is possible in our system to have a Barrack Obama, an almost unknown entity, who emerges on the national horizon and takes over the leadership of the country? In India, only Delhi has given us that kind of confidence. The election of the AAP is a leap into the future - AAP’s constitution states that no two-members of a family can hold positions in the organisation and also cannot contest elections.

Why can't we have more Narayan Murthys in business and in industry; and also in politics? In fact, while reading the biography of the great Chinese leader, Deng Xioping, I was amazed to discover that he not only took voluntary retirement for himself, but he also asked other leaders of his age to vacate their positions in favour of the younger generation. He fixed seventy (years) as the age of retirement for party leaders. He handed over the leadership to Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao - not to his family - and look at where China is today.

As a nation, can we do that? Yes, we can! But that requires vision and boldness, and also an iron will, to further democratize and modernize our politico-business environment. Till then, we will have to wait for the legend.