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Gowda's blunder may cost dear

By Business Standard
October 24, 2005 12:16 IST
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At a time when state after state has been canvassing with Infosys to be able to host one of its development centres, senior Karnataka politician H D Deve Gowda has through his public utterances managed to deeply offend the company and its chairman N R Narayana Murthy.

Mr Gowda has questioned the usefulness of Mr Murthy's role as the chairman of Bangalore International Airport Ltd, formed to set up the city's new airport, prompting Mr Murthy to resign.

Two prominent business persons who should know, Biocon chairman Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and BIAL CEO Albert Brunner, have strongly affirmed the role Mr Murthy played in getting the long-delayed project off the ground.

Miffed Narayana Murthy quits BIAL post

If Mr Gowda has been unfair and ungrateful to Mr Murthy for the public service the latter has rendered, the former Prime Minister has done worse in the case of Infosys, arguably the most respected Indian company in the world.

He has accused IT companies in the state of securing from the government far more land than they needed and singled out Infosys, going to the extent of referring to other large IT companies which have not asked the state government for land and which mostly work out of rented premises.

In response Infosys has released detailed statistics indicating the amount of land it has been allotted (at market prices), investments made and jobs created. Virtually half the jobs the company has created are in Karnataka and the over 800 acres of land the company has sought around Bangalore, the main bone of contention, will eventually create 25,000 jobs.

This is what Infosys has invested in Karnataka

In a telling rebuttal, Infosys has asked whether Mr Gowda would have companies build their own campuses or make business for property developers. Plus, two of the companies mentioned as working out of rented buildings have campuses at government-promoted Electronics City.

The absurdity of it all is that Infosys is a highly focused company which sticks not just to its own IT services business, but has thousands of crores in cash and hardly needs to make an extra bit through real estate. For a politician who should have the interest of his state in mind, Mr Gowda has done something quite incredible. He has belittled Infosys when he should have lionised it.

Mr Gowda's grouse against the IT community of Bangalore in general and Infosys and Mr Murthy in particular is twofold. He is irked by the protests of IT leaders against the sharp deterioration in the city's infrastructure in the last year or so. This is a reflection on the performance of the coalition government, of which he is a sort of father figure.

Mr Gowda has an additional grouse against Infosys. He sees it as having been close to former Chief Minister S M Krishna, who is Mr Gowda's political enemy number one. Mr Krishna put Mr Murthy at the head of BIAL so that he could use his standing in Delhi to help it get off the ground.

Worse, Mr Krishna gave pride of place to the Bangalore Agenda Task Force, created by Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani, which has been credited with having made life more livable in Bangalore through its pioneering public-private partnership model.

If Mr Gowda goes on antagonising Bangalore's IT industry in this way, he will be doing grievous damage not just to his own politics but to the state's economy as well.

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