For a country accustomed to gloating about GDP growth figures and taking these as a measure of achievement, here is sobering advice from NR Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys Technologies, India’s second-largest infotech firm. Stop focussing exclusively on 8 or 8.5% growth, look at the sorry state of affairs on the governance front, he said at a function here.
Drawing a contrast between the success of the private sector and the decay and corruption in the government sector, he said: “In areas where public governance is involved, we have hardly made any progress.”
Murthy said the politicians and bureaucrats are trapped in a colonial mindset. “They feel they are the masters and there is no need to show fairness and transparency,” he said.
Murthy, seen as an idealist by many, owns less than 5% of the total shares of Infosys. He will step down as chairman of the company in 10 days.
While admitting to some exceptions, he noted many of the leaders and bureaucrats were completely out of touch with the dynamics of the current world. “Once I was with a senior bureaucrat discussing how badly our high school students had performed in an international competition and he said, ‘we must stop participating in such competitions’,” he said.
The outdated mentality of the political class, he said, is accentuated by an equally apathetic population, which has almost accepted corruption and inefficiency. “For over 1,000 years, the government belonged to someone sitting either 2,000 miles or 4,000 miles away. There is no sense of societal ownership,” he said. “The penalty (for corruption) is minimal. As a result, there is no fear of repercussions and there is no accountability.”
Murthy’s cure, besides tougher punishment, is to abolish the system of generalised administrators under the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and replace it with specialists under a new ‘Indian Management Service’.
The new breed of government servants would have specialised knowledge to manage projects. Their salaries must also be increased to ‘near private sector’ levels, while making 60% of their remuneration variable according to how well they are able to implement projects. “If we had kept track of the activities using a project management software, we would not be where we are,” he said, about the delays in setting up the Commonwealth Games infrastructure.
He, however, refused to encourage speculation that he would join public life. “I am too old. Besides there is already someone from Infosys,” he said, referring to former CEO Nandan Nilekani, currently heading the UID project.