Speech by Narayana Murthy at LBSIM,Delhi

on Thursday, May 22, 2008


As it is said in the Vedas: Man can live individually, but can survive only
collectively. Hence, our challenge is to form a progressive community by
balancing the interests of the individual and that of the society. To meet
this we need to develop a value system where people accept modest
sacrifices for the common good.

A value system is the protocol for behaviour that enhances the trust,
confidence and commitment of members of the community. It goes beyond the
domain of legality - It is about decent and desirable behaviour. Further,
it includes putting the community interests ahead of your own. Thus, our
collective survival and progress is predicated on sound values.

There are two pillars of the cultural value system - loyalty to family and
loyalty to community. One should not be in isolation to the other, because,
successful societies are those which combine both harmoniously. It is in
this context that I will discuss the role of Western values in contemporary
Indian society.

As an Indian, I am proud to be part of a culture, which has deep-rooted
family values. We have tremendous loyalty to the family. For instance,
parents make enormous sacrifices for their children. They support them
until they can stand on their own feet. On the other side, children
consider it their duty to take care of aged parents. We believe: "Mathru
devo bhava, pithru devo bhava" (Mother is God and Father is God). Further,
brothers and sisters sacrifice for each other. In fact, the eldest brother
or sister is respected by all the other siblings.

As for marriage, it is held to be a sacred union - husband and wife are
bonded, most often, for life. In joint families, the entire family works
towards the welfare of the family. There is so much love and affection in
our family life. This is the essence of Indian values and one of our key

Our families act as a critical support mechanism for us. In fact, the
credit to the success of Infosys goes, as much to the founders as to their
families, for supporting them through the tough times. Unfortunately, our
attitude towards family life is not reflected in our attitude towards
community behaviour. From littering the streets to corruption to breaking
of contractual obligations, we are apathetic towards the common good.

The primary difference between the West and us is that, there, people have
a much better societal orientation. In the West - the US, Canada, Europe,
Australia, New Zealand - individuals understand that they have to be
responsible towards their community.

They care more for the society than we do. Further, they generally
sacrifice more for the society than us. Quality of life is enhanced because
of this. This is where we need to learn form the West.

Consider some of the lessons that we Indians can learn from the West:

* Respect for the public good - In the West, there is respect for the
public good. For instance, parks free of litter, clean streets, public
toilets free of graffiti - all these are instances of care for the

On the contrary, in India, we keep our houses clean and water our gardens
everyday but, when we go to a park, we do not think twice before littering
the place.

* Attitude to corruption - This is because of the individual's responsible
behaviour towards the community as a whole. On the contrary, in India,
corruption, tax evasion, cheating and bribery have eaten into our vitals.
For instance, contractors bribe officials, and construct low-quality roads
and bridges. Corruption, as we see in India, is another example of putting
the interest of oneself, and at best that of one's family, above that of
the society.

Society is relatively corruption free in the West. It is very difficult to
bribe a police officer into avoiding a speeding ticket. The result is that
society loses in the form of substandard defense equipment and
infrastructure, and low-quality recruitment, just to name a few
impediments. Unfortunately, this behaviour is condoned by almost everyone.

* Public apathy - Apathy in solving community matters has held us back from
making progress, which is otherwise within our reach. We see serious
problems around us but do not try to solve them. We behave as if the
problems do not exist or are somebody else's. On the other hand, in the
West, people solve societal problems proactively.

There are several examples of our apathetic attitude.

(i) For instance, all of us are aware of the problem of drought in India.
More than 40 years ago, Dr KL Rao - an irrigation expert, suggested
creation of a water grid connecting all the rivers in North and South
India, to solve this problem. Unfortunately, nothing has been done

(ii) The story of power shortage in Bangalore is another instance. In 1983,
it was decided to build a thermal power plant to meet Bangalore's
powerrequirements. Unfortunately, we have still not started it.

(iii) The Milan subway in Bombay is in a deplorable state for the past 40
years, and no action has been taken.

To quote another example, considering the constant travel required in the
software industry; five years ago, I had suggested a 240-page passport.
This would eliminate frequent visits to the passport office. In fact, we
are ready to pay for it. However, I am yet to hear from the ministry of
external affairs on this. We, Indians, would do well to remember Thomas
Hunter's words: Idleness travels very slowly, and poverty soon overtakes

What could be the reason for this? We were ruled by foreigners for over
thousand years. Thus, we have always believed that public issues belonged
to some foreign ruler and that we have no role in solving them. Moreover,
we have lost the will to proactively solve our own problems and have got
used to just executing someone else's orders.

Borrowing Aristotle's words: "We are what we repeatedly do." Thus, having
done this over the years, the decision-makers in our society are not
trained for solving problems. Our decision-makers look to somebody else to
take decisions. Unfortunately, there is nobody to look up to, and this is
the tragedy.

Our intellectual arrogance has also not helped our society. I have
travelled extensively, and in my experience, have not come across another
society where people are as contemptuous of better societies as we are,
with as little progress as we have achieved. Remember that arrogance breeds

No other society gloats so much about the past as we do, with as little
current accomplishment. Friends, this is not a new phenomenon, but at least
a thousand years old. For instance, Al Barouni, the famous Arabic logician
and traveller of the 10th century, who spent about 30 years in India from
997 AD to around 1027 AD, referred to this trait of Indians.

According to him, during his visit, most Indian pundits considered it below
their dignity even to hold arguments with him. In fact, on a few occasions
when a pundit was willing to listen to him, and found his arguments to be
very sound, he invariably asked Barouni: which Indian pundit taught these
smart things!

The most important attribute of a progressive society is respect for others
who have accomplished more than they themselves have, and learn from them.
Contrary to this, our leaders make us believe that other societies do not
know anything!

At the same time, everyday, in the newspapers, you will find numerous
claims from our leaders that ours is the greatest nation. This has to stop.
These people would do well to remember Thomas Carlyle's words: "The
greatest of faults is to be conscious of none."

If we have to progress, we have to change this attitude, listen to people
who have performed better than us, learn from them and perform better than
them. Infosys is a good example of such an attitude.

We continue to rationalise our failures. No other society has mastered this
art as well as we have. Obviously, this is an excuse to justify our
incompetence, corruption, and apathy. This attitude has to change. As Sir
Josiah Stamp has said: "It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we
cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities."

Another interesting attribute, which we Indians can learn from the West, is
their accountability. Irrespective of your position, in the West, you are
held accountable for what you do. However, in India, the more 'important'
you are, the less answerable you are.

For instance, a senior politician once declared that he 'forget' to file
his tax returns for 10 consecutive years - and he got away with it. To
quote another instance, there are over 100 loss-making public sector units
in India. Nevertheless, I have not seen action taken for bad performance
against top managers in these organisations.

In the West, each person is proud about his or her labour that raises
honest sweat. On the other hand, in India, we tend to overlook the
significance of those who are not in professional jobs. We have a mindset
that reveres only supposedly intellectual work. For instance, I have seen
many engineers, fresh from college, who only want to do cutting-edge work
and not work that is of relevance to business and the country.

However, be it an organisation or society, there are different people
performing different roles. For success, all these people are required to
discharge their duties. This includes everyone from the CEO to the person
who serves tea - every role is important. Hence, we need a mindset that
reveres everyone who puts in honest work.

Indians become intimate even without being friendly. They ask favors of
strangers without any hesitation. For instance, the other day, while I was
travelling from Bangalore to Mantralayam, I met a fellow traveller on the
train. Hardly five minutes into the conversation, he requested me to speak
to his MD about removing him from the bottom 10 per cent list in his
company, earmarked for disciplinary action.

I was reminded of what Rudyard Kipling once said: A westerner can be
friendly without being intimate while an easterner tends to be intimate
without being friendly.

Yet another lesson to be learnt from the West, is about their
professionalism in dealings. The common good being more important than
personal equations, people do not let personal relations interfere with
their professional dealings. For instance, they don't hesitate to chastise
a colleague, even if he is a personal friend, for incompetent work.

In India, I have seen that we tend to view even work interactions from a
personal perspective. Further, we are the most 'thin-skinned' society in
the world - we see insults where none is meant. This may be because we were
not free for most of the last thousand years.

Further, we seem to extend this lack of professionalism to our sense of
punctuality. We do not seem to respect the other person's time. The Indian
Standard Time somehow seems to be always running late. Moreover, deadlines
are typically not met. How many public projects are completed on time?

The disheartening aspect is that we have accepted this as the norm rather
than an exception. Meritocracy by definition means that we cannot let
personal prejudices affect our evaluation of an individual's performance.
As we increasingly start to benchmark ourselves with global standards, we
have to embrace meritocracy.

In the West, right from a very young age, parents teach their children to
be independent in thinking. Thus, they grow up to be strong, confident
individuals. In India, we still suffer from feudal thinking. I have seen
people, who are otherwise bright, refusing to show independence and
preferring to be told what to do by their boss. We need to overcome this
attitude if we have to succeed globally.

The Western value system teaches respect to contractual obligation. In the
West, contractual obligations are seldom dishonoured. This is important -
enforceablity of legal rights and contracts is the most important factor in
the enhancement of credibility of our people and nation.

In India, we consider our marriage vows as sacred. We are willing to
sacrifice in order to respect our marriage vows. However, we do not extend
this to the public domain. For instance, India had an unfavourable contract
with Enron. Instead of punishing the people responsible for negotiating
this, we reneged on the contract - this was much before we came to know
about the illegal activities at Enron.

To quote another instance, I had given recommendations to several students
for the national scholarship for higher studies in US universities. Most of
them did not return to India even though contractually they were obliged to
spend five years after their degree in India.

In fact, according to a professor at a reputed US university, the maximum
default rate for student loans is among Indians - all of these students
pass out in flying colours and land lucrative jobs, yet they refuse to pay
back their loans. Thus, their action has made it difficult for the students
after them, from India, to obtain loans.

Further, we Indians do not display intellectual honesty. For example, our
political leaders use mobile phones to tell journalists on the other side
that they do not believe in technology! If we want our youngsters to
progress, such hypocrisy must be stopped.

We are all aware of our rights as citizens. Nevertheless, we often fail to
acknowledge the duty that accompanies every right. To borrow Dwight
Eisenhower's words: "People that values its privileges above its principles
soon loses both."

Our duty is towards the community as a whole, as much as it is towards our
families. We have to remember that fundamental social problems grow out of
a lack of commitment to the common good. To quote Henry Beecher: Culture is
that which helps us to work for the betterment of all.

Hence, friends, I do believe that we can make our society even better by
assimilating these Western values into our own culture - we will be
stronger for it. Most of our behaviour comes from greed, lack of
self-confidence, lack of confidence in the nation, and lack of respect for
the society.

To borrow Gandhi's words: There is enough in this world for everyone's
need, but not enough for everyone's greed. Let us work towards a society
where we would do unto others what we would have others do unto us. Let us
all be responsible citizens who make our country a great place to live.

In the words of Winston Churchill, "Responsibility is the price of
greatness." We have to extend our family values beyond the boundaries of
our home. Let us work towards maximum welfare of the maximum people -
"Samasta janaanaam sukhino bhavantu".

Finally, let us of this generation, conduct ourselves as great citizens
rather than just good people so that we can serve as good examples for our
younger generation.

Thank you.
-Narayana Murthy