Bangalore’s IT industry invokes a schizoid voyeurism. Although it has been around longer than Infosys, not too many doff their hat to Wipro. Although its founder didn’t have to get his wife to part with 12,000 rupees, Azim Premji doesn’t quite have VIPs traipsing through the turnstiles and drooling over his campus.
The reasons have as much to do with Infy’s PR as, perhaps, Wipro’s ownership pattern. In the just-released book The Long Revolution—the birth and growth of India’s IT industry (HarperCollins), the science journalist Dinesh C. Sharma narrates a telling story on the extraordinary (and exemplary) nationalism of Premji’s father:
“The initial success of companies like DCM in the area of computer manufacturing and the growing popularity of microprocessor-based systems attracted many Indian commercial houses to this sector. Among them was a company named Western Indian Products Limited, based at Amalner, a small town in the Jalgaon district of Maharashtra. It used to manufacture cooking oil under the brand name Sunflower Vanaspati, and a laundry soap called 787, a byproduct of oil manufacture.
“The company was established by Mohamed Hasham Premji in 1945. He was a leading rice merchant and commission agent in Bombay. When Mohammed Ali Jinnah set up the planning committee of the Muslim League (on the lines of the national planning committee of the Indian National Congress) in September 1944, he invited Hasham Premji to be a part of it. But Premji did not want to join the League formally for ‘personal and business reasons’. He was then assured by Jinnah that he could serve without publicly signing the Muslim League pledge¹.
“Jinnah reportedly sought out Premji once again when he was forming the first cabinet in Pakistan to serve as his fnnance minister. But Premji rejected the offer and decided to stay on in India and nurture his oil business².”
¹ Ian Talbot, “Planning for Pakistan: The Planning Committee of the All India Muslim League 1943-46”, Modern Asian Studies, 1994, pp 875-89
² Rohit Saran, The World’s Richest Indian, India Today, 6 March 2000