Come again, in spite of government or because?

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore:  In the six days since the half-truths came out, the Satyam saga has played to script. The stock’s value has plunged, employees careers have been endangered, Hyderabad’s image has taken a hit, and the nation’s reputation has been somewhat badgered.

What has also been on expected lines has been the collective wisdom of the IT czars.

On television and in the papers, wise sages who cannot even pronounce Ramalinga Raju‘s name properly, have said it was a “one-off” case. Messiahs have said this would not hit India Inc provided the government acted quickly. And the “body builders” have said “these” are the steps the government to limit the damage.

While much of this advice is good, it’s the bit about the government that is the story. And that is what nobody is talking about in the melee.

Which is, that for all the grand-standing of the Narayana Murthys and Azim Premjis, the truth is the IT industry is very heavily dependent on the “State” to take birth, take its first steps, and survive and thrive.

It takes a fraud like Satyam’s to separate the hype from hard reality.

For years, the IT industry’s proud albeit ridiculous boast has been that it is a baby of liberalisation. That its birth, rise and growth has been in spite of the government, not because of it. That the government had no role and that the longer the government stays out of it, the better. Etcetera.

Blissfully ignored has been role of the government in creating the scaffolding for the IT industry to stand on—the accent on English in primary education, the setting up of engineering colleges, the allotment of massive tracts of land for the IT companies, the tax holidays in the initial years. Etcetera.

Can any one of the mahatmas proffering their free advice to the government today after the Satyam saga claim that the government had no role, and has no role?

Who are the IT chiefs appealing to act fast to save them and India Inc? The government. Who do Satyam’s employees look for support? The government. Who do Satyam’s investors and shareholders look to for help? The government. Who sacked the old crooks  and appointed a new board? The government. Who is the new management appealing to for infusion of liquidity to tide over the crisis? The government. Etcetera.

It is all very well to mouth the fair-weather cliche that the government should play the role of a facilitator. But it is the tension of trouble that reveals the true colours.

As I write this, the crawlers say “PM closely monitoring Satyam issue, holds meetings with Fin Min, RBI officials”, “PM directed cabinet secretary for coordinated response to Satyam”, etc.

If the IT industry owes its towering rise and existence to itself, why is the word “government” on the lips of so many of its spokespersons today? And if the suits in NASSCOM could solve all their problems on their own, why are we seeing the very earthy P.C. Gupta (minister for company affairs) on TV so often?

In itself, this is not surprising. Even in the cradle of capitalism, the economic meltdown has seen the auto majors and banks depending on the government to bail them out. But Indian IT has lived in a state of denial, and lapped around in it. It’s time they woke up and smelt the coffee.

Filter coffee, presumably.