An insider told TNM that messaging groups are abuzz with messages from heads of IT companies who worry that this could be a message being sent surreptitiously.

Narayan Murthy
news Controversy Tuesday, September 07, 2021 - 10:59

The Panchjanya article calling IT giant Infosys ‘anti-national’, among other things, has triggered a huge debate within the IT community in Bengaluru. The RSS has distanced itself from the controversial piece but that has done little to assuage the community. TNM spoke to several entrepreneurs and IT honchos, many of whom were unwilling to come on record for the fear of possible repercussions but said that there is a sense of persecution after the article.

The RSS and the BJP tried to downplay the conflict on Sunday but the controversy is far from over. An insider told TNM that messaging groups are abuzz with messages from heads of IT companies who worry that this could be a message being sent surreptitiously. “The RSS disowning the article does not mean that they do not actually endorse it. There has been no apology tendered for such strong terms used in the article, nor has it been withdrawn. This seems to be an attempt at building public opinion against Infosys and the IT and ITes industry at large,” said a former CEO of a multinational company.

An entrepreneur speaking to TNM anonymously said that there is trepidation in the industry. “The fracas that we are witnessing behind closed doors is because we know that it affects all of us. Infosys is a giant with immense influence in the corridors of power, so there has been some level of pushback. The same might not be the case if this was someone else,” the entrepreneur said.

Also read: RSS says article on Infosys not their view, Mohandas Pai slams article

But former CFO and board member of Infosys Mohandas Pai said that the statements should not be read as endorsed by the government.

"RSS is a very loose knit organisation and it has many people with operational freedom to say what they want. So many of them do not have a view of the big picture. For many years, they have been taking a hardline on many issues. Many of them still have not understood that they are part of the ruling alliance which is in government. And when you are in government you need to moderate your language. Earlier if you used this kind of language when you were in opposition, it was still alright but not anymore because now people will look at them for signals as what the government wants to say. My assessment is that they have not grown up yet," Pai told TNM.

"These are just loose cannons who write some rubbish. So we should come down hard on them so that they do not make this mistake again," Pai added.

Saurabh Srivastava, the Co-founder and Former Chairman of NASSCOM, said that mistakes can happen, but branding Infosys anti-national for it came as a surprise.

"Infosys is not a company that has grown and built to this size, getting respect in the international market if it was not doing good work. You do not win big overseas contracts except on merit. So anyone who is taking potshots at Infosys probably does not understand how this works. When a CEO of a company takes on a large project, there is a big process around it. The customer will indicate his requirement and then you do what you do as per the requirement. There is constant interaction with the customers on what will happen and what is expected. It is a bit of a surprise that suddenly something of this thought would happen," he said.

He points out that the issues with the Income tax portal may have happened because there is a mismatch between what the customer has stated that they want and what the company has understood. "This is rare because there are always several frequent points of interaction of testing. When people keep changing in governments their understanding keeps changing and so there can be some confusion about what was needed and what has been agreed to. There is obviously a slip-up. These things happen in complex projects," he added.

But the larger issue was about Infosys being called anti-national, he said. "All of us were most surprised to see it. Of all the things that people would say about companies in the IT industry one would not expect them to be called anti-national. We are an industry that, 30 years ago, was a 50-million-dollar industry and today we are a 200-billion-dollar industry. We provide around 25% of the country's foreign exchange. We create massive employment. So the last thing I would have thought was that this industry is anti-national," Saurabh said.

Another IT honcho TNM spoke to said that the whole incident shows that nobody is beyond reproach. "Most companies fear working with the government for similar reasons. It is never a level playing field. I am not saying mistakes would not have been made by Infosys but it would not have been one-sided. In this case too, many of us believe that this is a publicity stunt by a few people close to power but despite this being such an unfortunate episode, not many of us can risk coming out against it."

"The government is not constant, as people get transferred and the ownership of the project changes, and the new people who come in bring in their style of functioning. And even if we have met all the demands put forth in the original agreement, there can be new demands made and this could not necessarily come with redrawing of the financial aspect. Any protest could attract the wrath of someone in a high position and influence. What that could translate into is anyone’s guess,” the person added.

The source also said that when dealing with government projects, there are multiple issues — lack of transparency and change in expectations being common.

"Most often, this could be a prestige issue, random announcements are made regarding what the service or product can do or an unrealistic deadline for its launch. We saw this happening even during the COVID-19 crisis management. Then the company has to scramble to meet the expectations or face public shaming," the IT honcho said.

Also read: Communal message on iD Fresh Food goes viral, company slams fake propaganda 

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