The UPA government under Manmohan Singh has been vilified by many over the years for letting India down in its second term ( 2008-2014). The latest to join the chorus against Singh’s government is none other than N R Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Indian IT giant Infosys. In a recent interaction with the students of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, Murthy said that economic activities under the UPA government stalled despite the fact that Manmohan Singh, the extraordinary man was at the helm of affairs.
"I used to be on the board of HSBC in London (between 2008 and 2012). In the first few years, when China was mentioned two to three times in the boardroom (during meetings), India's name would be mentioned once," Murthy said.
Murthy’s comment on the UPA government is not an exception. In the past, apart from businessmen like India Cements’ N Srinivasan, even Congress insiders have accused the Singh government of leading India towards policy paralysis.
But in the case of Murthy, one thing stands out. His views on the UPA government were not the same when Singh was the prime minister of India. In an interview with Outlook's Sunit Arora published in 2009, Murthy had praised Singh’s government for achieving ‘spectacular economic growth’. He had also praised the economist Prime Minister of India for raising the issue of inclusive growth in the country.
Below are the excerpts of the interview with Murthy.
Sunit Arora: You have been observing public life for a long while. Do you see this as a watershed election? Or, is it just one of those regular elections?
N.R. Narayana Murthy: This election is very important because it is being held after a period of spectacular economic growth in the country. Second, it is being held when, for the first time, there are concerns about lack of inclusive growth. Even though only a certain section of India has been shining since 2000, the inclusive growth issue was not raised in the 2004 elections. Dr Manmohan Singh has brought the need for inclusive growth to the front burner. In that sense, today, there is a much greater awareness of the fact that not everybody in the country has benefited from our extraordinary economic growth. Third, there has been a re-alignment of parties even before the elections. We have seen realignment in both the coalitions -- among the parties that were together in the government, and among the parties that were together outside the government. In that sense, yes, this election is different.
In fact, if you look at media, the sense you get is that there is no debate over issues before this election.
You may have read the introduction section in the book of my speeches. There, I have talked about three fundamental tenets on which my economic philosophy is based. First is the set of values like hard work, honesty, discipline, decency, austerity and entrepreneurship to be followed by people for fast inclusive economic growth. Second is leadership by example. Third is the need for a change in the mindset of the elite in the country to relate to the reality that is India, and to desist from creating asymmetry of benefits in their favour vis-à-vis the common man. In fact, what you are seeing in the pre-election media is really the attitude of elitism. The elite in most societies including India are really not concerned about the plight of the poor people. They are concerned about what happens in urban areas, what happens in certain social circles, and what happens in circles of power. So, I am not that much surprised with what we are seeing.
What issues do you think should be debated?
The issues that we have to debate all pertain to inclusive growth. That is, we have to look at whether we are making life better for all the worlds that India is comprised of – the urban and the rural, the rich and the poor, the educated and the not-so-well-educated. We have to look at whether there has been improvement in the neglected parts of our country. We have to look at whether we have made life better for our minorities.
As you are saying, 2004 came as a bit of surprise – and in 2009, the debate about inclusive growth has become stronger and has intensified. Is that a reflection on the UPA government, which came to power on the development plank?
No matter what government has been in power, our record in human development index has been poor. We have actually slipped in rankings in many parameters. Whether you look at primary education or primary healthcare, we have really not done well. That is simply because of the elitist attitude. Most of us are have been concerned about improving the lot of the middle class, the upper middle class, the rich and the powerful. In that sense, it is nothing different. For the first time, our Prime Minister – for whom I have tremendous respect – has been trying to focus the attention of the country on the need to achieve inclusive growth. That to me is a fresh thing; a watershed phenomenon in this election.
So, if you look at the performance of the last five years, you would say a beginning has been made.
A beginning has been made. Certainly, we have articulated the problem. We have brought it to the consciousness of the people. There is a debate on this issue though it has not been a major item in the media. But I do think this will, indeed, become a front burner question. This is good for the country.
Do you have a sense of LK Advani’s views on inclusive growth?
As the leader of a major party in India, I have no doubt at all that Mr Advani too is concerned about inclusive growth in our country. Because he has been in the opposition for the last five years and because he was the deputy PM in the prior government in charge of the Home portfolio, the country has not heard much from him on economic issues. But, I am sure he will have this issue as a primary concern in his election campaign.
And the paradigm has shifted from another kind of portrayal of India’s successes – which you are very much a part of – to another kind of portrayal on what needs to be done.
I define a developed society as one where the poorest section of the society has the ability to lead a reasonably comfortable life in terms of access to education, healthcare, nutrition and shelter. In such a society, the gap between the rich and the poor must be as low as possible. I must admit that even in developed societies, that gap is increasing. However, a basic minimum standard of life needed by the poor exists there. To me, development is not about the availability of imported wine, Reebok shoes, IPods, or Iphones. Development is fulfilling the basic needs of and creating an opportunity for every citizen to improve his or her lot.