Narayana Murthy to revive Swatantra Party?

K. SATYANARAYAN forwards a news report from The Business Times section of The Straits Times, Singapore, that says Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy is “eyeing a role in politics” and may indeed, be planning to revive the Swatantra Party, a tune which another Bangalore IT honcho, Jaitirth “Jerry” Rao of BFL-mPhasis, has been singing for some time now.

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2 April 2007

Indian IT mogul ‘eyeing role in politics’

Infosys founder may inject $140m into reviving old political party

By Ravi Velloor, India Bureau Chief

BUSINESS TIMES

NEW DELHI: Indian software mogul N.R. Narayana Murthy may be onsidering a move into politics, with talk that he may even bankroll the revival of an old political party.

Murthy, founding chief executive of Bangalore-based Infosys Technologies, has discussed the move with at least two prominent industrialists in recent weeks.

“Murthy asked what they thought of reviving the old Swatantra Party. He indicated he is willing to put up as much as four billion rupees of his own money for the purpose,” a person familiar with the discussions told The Straits Times.

Mr Murthy was in Zurich and was not available to comment. Responding to queries from The Straits Times, Infosys spokesman Bani Dhawan denied that Murthy planned to enter politics or set up a political party.

But well-placed sources close to the discussions think Murthy may be inclined to reconsider his options.

Infosys, the country’s No. 2 software exporter, is the bellwether of the Indian software industry. Murthy, who co-founded the company in 1981, is estimated to have a personal fortune of US$1.8 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

He stepped down as Infosys CEO last August upon turning 60, but continues as non-executive chairman and chief mentor. He also sits on the board of Singapore’s DBS Group Ltd. Murthy, who lists his heroes as Mahatma Gandhi and Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, has been dogged by talk of a political career in recent months.

More recently, some people have thought he should be nominated to succeed President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, whose term ends in July. So far, Murthy has consistently denied such ambitions.

“Politics in India is a very complex canvas with multiple divides—urban and rural, rich and poor, and educated and not so educated. I don’t think I am competent to handle such a complex canvas,” the Economic Times newspaper quoted him as saying last July.

Swatantra, which translates as Independence, was founded by the late C. Rajagopalachari, a prominent freedom fighter from southern India. Rajagopalachari opposed Nehruvian socialism and the rigid controls on free enterprise that marked Indian industry before 1991.

Founded in 1959, the Swatantra Party was, for a time, the largest opposition grouping in Parliament. In its time, it was identified with free enterprise.

Murthy’s current thinking may be influenced by a series of events. Last year, he quit the chairmanship of the Bangalore international airport project after a spat with former prime minister Deve Gowda, Karnataka state’s most influential politician, whose son is the state’s Chief Minister.

More recently, he has been worried about the Indian government’s move to widen caste-based quotas in education, seeing it as a backward step.

He also recently stepped into the raging controversy over Special Economic Zones, suggesting that the plan as currently conceived is a bad idea.

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Is it wise for Narayana Murthy to enter electoral politics? Will he succeed like he has in business, or will he be gobbled up by the bigger sharks? Will a hand in the cesspool of politics strip Infy’s founder of his shimmer? Will a party like Swatantra, which represented the interests of big business, strike a chord in a country where the vast majority is still ekeing out a living?