Infosys founder Narayan Murthy declared recently, "Is there one invention from India that has become a household name in the globe? Is there one idea that has led to an earth-shaking invention to delight global citizens? Folks, the reality is there is no such contribution from India in the last 60 years.”
While a lot of people started nodding their heads, he arrogantly and unnecessarily added, “The only two ideas that have transformed the productivity of global corporations—the global delivery model and the 24-hour workday—came from a company called Infosys.”
That’s the height of his ego and could only come from a software engineer who is so full of himself and thinks that IT is the only thing that is running the world. Interestingly when it comes to the IT world, it is India that lags behind.
Full text of Murthy's 2015 convocation lecture at the Indian Institute of Science
Did Mr Murthy’s Indian IT industry produce an Apple or a Microsoft or a Google or a Facebook? The answer is a big no. Everything is out of America.
Europe and Tim Berners Lee and CERN can take the credit for the World Wide Web but absolutely nothing earth-shaking came out of IT India or nothing that would delight global citizens.
IT is a much hyped industry and usually that overshadows the achievements of all other industries. How much has Infosys changed India? What would have happened if it wasn’t there? It’s not even the biggest IT company; lagging way behind TCS.
Then what about companies like Wipro and Cognizant? If you combine all these companies, can they match even a fraction of the innovations of Apple? Outsourcing is great for making good money and getting a foot in world IT but you can hardly call it an earth-shattering innovation.
How many lives have been changed by Infosys? Does rural India even care if it exists or not? In fact something low-key like the Jaipur Foot (or Jaipur Leg) has had a greater impact. A genius called Ram Chander Sharma invented it in 1968.
It is the cheapest prosthetic leg in the world and people come from all over the world to walk with dignity as they otherwise couldn’t afford a replacement from the expensive medical establishments.
More than one million people have benefited mainly from Asia, Africa and South America. Just because it doesn’t get a lot of media attention doesn’t mean that it’s not a brilliant idea and not changing the lives of global citizens.
The biggest thing to have come out of India is probably what could be called the “Re-invention and commercialization of Yoga in the 1980s”. Sure Yoga is thousands of years old, but it was inaccessible to the world.
Great yoga practitioners from India strived to modify and make it accessible throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century but it was only in the 1980s that it took off. By the nineties the number of Yoga practitioners outside India touched 1 million.
Today that number could be in the range of 20-25 million. That’s why the International Yoga Day was supported by most countries across the world and a severe Yoga critic like Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would give it a try when he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Then there are some great ideas which don’t take off or could do so tomorrow. Like the Tata Nano. Tata became the first fully Indian company to manufacture cars and did great innovation in the Assembly line to come out with the cheapest car in the world, no mean feat!
There was a Nano buzz in car shows all over the world and one international newspaper even called it the greatest car innovation since the Ford Assembly line at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Nano still could become a great No. 1 car of the developing world and No. 2 car of the developed world depending on how international auto makers adopt it to their markets in the years to come.
Of course if there’s one great idea that you could pick up, then it could be “low cost space missions” and ISRO has emerged as a world-class organization in that regard.
The Americans went into space, walked on the moon, built the space shuttle… and then it simply came to a grinding halt. The Man of Mars mission was cancelled and NASA projects went into decline.
The future of space research looked grim. The main reason was money. The public was fascinated by space travel but totally unwilling to pay for it. Then in walked ISRO.
It has started launching satellites for countries all over the world including 5 UK satellites in one shot. But what really captured NASA’s imagination was the highly successful Mangalyaan at a fraction of the cost that NASA would spend.
The NASA-ISRO relationship has just begun and who knows what the future holds? (See: Six hits of ISRO in 2014)
In Arthur C Clarke’s Space Odyssey series, an Indian builds the supercomputer HAL. In real life, ISRO could build the actual spaceship that carries man out of the solar system. Who knows?
In fact the Green Revolution and mid-day meal scheme has been more India-shaking and a delight for Indian citizens rather than “the global delivery model and the 24-hour workday” that Mr Murthy talks about.
Even something like Flipkart is emerging as a much bigger brand name than Infosys for most Indians.
One would like to ask Mr Murthy, where is the promised computer revolution that would transform rural India that we have been hearing for ages? That’s been one big failure for the Indian computer industry and there have been very few projects like ITC’s E-Chaupal and Karnataka’s Bhoomi land project.
In fact it is the mobile revolution that promises to transform rural India.
The problem is that India was pseudo-Communist country pretending to be a democracy from 1947-91. All the talent had to flee India during that period. That’s why NRIs have been winning Nobel Prizes and shining in Silicon Valley.
However things are changing. Quite a lot of talent growing up in post-2000 India will be less likely to leave.
We are on the crux of an innovation boom in India. After that happens one wonders if Mr Murthy’s Infosys would make it to even the Top 10 innovations of modern India.
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