By Raza Hasnain Naqvi
Challenging times are ahead for admired Indian businesses like Tata Group and Infosys who have been recently severely targeted and tagged as ‘anti-national’ by a Union Cabinet Minister and an RSS-affiliated magazine for alleged disagreement with government policies and alleged work inefficiency. This has alarmed and demoralised other top major business groups of India who are unsure what kind of treatment they can expect in the days ahead.
They say politics and business go together. If politics is all about business, then in the same breath you can also say, business is all about politics. Both are inseparable partners who are dependent on each other and their synergy is all about ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine.’
But things can become complex, even tense in this natural relationship when one partner may feel deeply hurt and decide to indulge in slander. Hurtful epithets are then offered in large doses to the other partner who may not really understand why he deserved such comments.
In this case, the first ‘political partner duo’ is a Union Cabinet Minister in the BJP-led Central Government Piyush Goyal and an RSS-affiliated magazine ‘Panchjanya’ who are offering reputation-damaging comments. The second is a respected ‘business partner duo’ namely Tata Group and Infosys who are taking the brunt of such damaging remarks.
Let’s check out the cracks that are showing in their relationship.
On August 14, 2021, during a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) event, Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal started criticising Indian businesses in general that their business practices had a profit-driven approach only and did not serve the country’s interest. He specifically mentioned the 153-year old Tata Group saying that the Group had raised objections on the strict e-commerce policy that the Centre had framed for the benefit of Indian consumers. He said this act of Tata Group “frankly it hurts” and it shows a self-oriented approach.
Tata Group on the other hand have raised objections to certain points in the government’s e-commerce policy which it says, if implemented, would mean major losses for their business. Their private brands would face losses, as would their JV tie-ups with other companies. It is another matter that major e-commerce players like Amazon and Flipkart, including Reliance Retail, have also been standing up on the bench and pointing fingers at the policy.
The RSS-affiliated magazine Panchjanya in its September 5, 2021 magazine edition brought out a Hindi cover story titled ‘Infosys: Saakh Aur Aaghat’. The magazine story says that Infosys got a big government contract for creating a GST portal and ever since it was created there have been numerous complaints about it from Indian business owners. Then it got another big contract of creating the Income Tax portal that was launched on June 7, 2021, and this too faced many problems.
The magazine story stated that though they don’t have any concrete proof, past history and circumstances of Infosys could mean something else. The magazine alleged that these problems and glitches on the portals may be deliberate to destabilise the country’s economy and business. The story even made allegations that Infosys is helping “Naxals, Leftists and tukde-tukde gang”.
This article sent ripples on social media. A Panchjanya cover story using assumptions to attack a specific Indian business entity that is well known and admired in business circles around the world was surprising. It was even alarming and depressing for other businesses too as RSS is the parent body of the BJP that is running the Central government. Many major business owners are now fearful and wondering whether the BJP-led Indian government also feels the same about Infosys? If so, then would they too be targeted in the coming days for some reason or another?
Sensing the negative sentiment building up among business owners and many Indians on social media, a couple of days later RSS shared its reaction on Twitter. It conveyed that Infosys has made a “seminal contribution in the progress of the country” and that the magazine was not the mouthpiece of RSS and the comments made were the writer’s opinion.
Just a day later, another senior RSS leader shared his thoughts on this issue without taking any names except for using the phrase “anti-national forces” during the inauguration of a new office of ‘Panchjanya’. The eventwas attended by senior BJP leaders also. Praising Panchjanya, he said the magazine was at the forefront of ‘dharmayudha’ and dharma would win in the end.
Reaction on the part of the Indian government has been limited to the Finance Ministry telling Infosys to resolve all problems on the portals by September 15, 2021.
Tata Group is a USD106 billion business entity that is a collection of about 100 companies. Its projects and business are diversified in many sectors that include steel, salt, chemicals, automotive, info systems, software, engineering and manufacturing.
The number of employees in Tata companies exceeds two lakh people. Imagine each employee being part of a family of four and then calculate how many Indians this Indian business group is serving directly. The Group operates in 54 countries and also exports products and services to more than 100 countries. Imagine the Indian talent that is getting so much international experience and being promoted worldwide as a result of all this global export. The Group has acquired more than 10 foreign business companies thereby gaining ownership of famous business brands. This has made top business leaders of the world stop and think that emerging Indian companies can be considered strong, versatile, dynamic, ambitious and focused on quality.
- Tata Group may be wondering why it should not raise genuine concerns about a government policy that will cause major harm to its businesses. As a result of adopting a debilitating policy, its employees, business allies and shareholders could also be negatively impacted, which should not happen.
- Tata Group may be thinking and feeling that being an Indian business brand they have worked hard to raise the image of their country around the world. They have done it with their multi-faceted quality services and products praised by both national and international clients. Despite this fact, they are being tagged as self-centred, interested in only their own growth?
- Tata Group may be feeling disheartened and worried that many foreign investors might decide to postpone or even avoid investing in the Group’s projects till the Indian government showed more confidence in the Group.
Infosys is a more than USD 90 Billion market capitalisation Indian company. Currently, it has more than 260,000 employees. In 2021 the company crossed revenue of INR 100,000 cr in FY2021. Infosys has been recognised as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies. It has also been recognised as a Global Top Employer 2021 and Fastest Growing Top 10 IT Services Brand.
If the company has grown in numbers and recognition, then so has the recognition and praise for India for its values that power the skilled and talented information technology (IT) workforce. The general perception around the world is that India is an IT superpower. Software professionals from India are most sought after in all countries.
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- Infosys may be feeling that they have engaged their most talented people to work on the prestigious government projects of building the GST and the Income Tax portals and yet there are so many complaints. What more can we do, except to continue to dig deeper and find solutions to pressing challenges.
- Infosys may be thinking that being called out by the government for problems in GST and Income Tax portals is acceptable as systems can be implemented to resolve those problems. But being targeted with slanderous accusations by a powerful magazine that admits to having no concrete proof for its statements is overwhelming, depressing and demoralising.
- Infosys may be feeling that the Union government is not commenting either way on the treatment meted out to its reputation by the magazine, which is confusing. Comments from government spokespersons would help in devising future plans of action and cooperation with the government. Positive government interference could also be a message to other businesses that the government has their back and has confidence in their business success.