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'State must allow enterprise of individuals'

By P Chidambaram in Mysore
July 30, 2006 23:20 IST
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Chief Minster Shri Kumaraswamy, Chairman of Infosys my good friend Shri Narayana Murthy, CEO of Infosys Mr Nandan Nilekani, Chief Operating Officer Infosys Mr Gopalakrishanan, Infosicions, family of Infoscions, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Shri Montek Ahluwalia, other distinguished guests, friends, especially my young friends here. . .

Standing here, it is difficult to believe that we are in India...  that we are not in the capital city of a state, but in a city with a great history and even greater future. This could be the Silicon Valley in California. This could be the Rouen region in France, this could be Stuttgart, this could be any town in Australia. But we are proud that this is India, we are proud that the makers of this dream are here with us and let me begin by congratulating Shri Narayana Murthy and those who founded Infosys 25 years ago.

Like everyone born in free India or shortly before India became free, I too believed that the state was the best judge of human affairs, the state was the best mobiliser of capital, the state was the best investor of capital and the state was the best employer. My first brush with the state was when I applied for foreign exchange to join the Harvard Business School. Everyone denied me the exchange, although the Business School had granted me admission.

Finally, thanks to the kindness of a gentleman, who carried with him the title chief controller of foreign exchange, I know it is difficult for you to believe that there could have been someone called chief controller of foreign exchange, he gave me a grand allowance of $7 a day to pay for my board, my food, my personal expenses 10 months a year in the two years that I will spend at Harvard, irrespective of the fact whether I had a place to stay or food to eat for the remaining two months of the year. That opened my eyes.

Because there was something fundamentally wrong about the way we organised our affairs in this country. The second time that I was awakened to the manner in which we organise economic affairs in this country was when I travelled with a gentleman, an officer of the government of India who introduced himself as a chief controller of imports and exports.

That was the second chief controller I had run into, and I asked him little knowing that within a month I would become his minister. I said I understand why you are the chief controller of imports, but please tell me why are you the chief controller of exports. He had no answer.

Within a month I was his minister and I told him I am abolishing your post, you have no business to be the chief controller of exports and by the same reasoning, you have no business to be the chief controller of imports. 

I know of young men and women like you for whom it is difficult to believe that we could have lived through those days, but we did in the hope that other young men and women will join us in the dream of building a new India, a strong India, a prosperous India, an India that will be free of poverty and disease.

Unknown to us seven young men supported by their families began another voyage 25 years ago. They were able to put together a paltry sum of Rs 10,000. Mr Murthy narrated to you the day when they installed their first telephone. I am sure if he had taken some more time, he would have narrated to you the day they bought their first car, the days in which they did not draw salaries, the days in which they built their first homes, the days in which they crossed several milestones -- the first employee, the 100th employee, the 1000th employee; 25 years after that voyage began, we are here today celebrating the success of a great enterprise that makes all Indians proud and that places India among the frontline nations of the world in software and technology.

I know that you have come from all parts of India, you have come from different social backgrounds, you belong to different religions and you carry with you the burdens of the past, the baggage of caste, community, and local affinities.

But I would like you to believe that you are above all a citizen of the world and that it is your duty to make India a strong and prosperous country. I want you to believe that this is possible in your lifetime and that in your lifetime, we can abolish poverty and disease in India. I want you to believe that there is nothing in this world, which cannot be achieved by unlocking the potential of young men and women, unleashing the spirit of enterprise, and saluting excellence, aspiration, and achievement.

I want you to believe that the people of India know better than their governments, I want you to have a healthy respect for law at the same time, a healthy suspicion of anyone who wields authority, I want you to believe that what is best for India can be decided by the people of India not by politicians, political parties, trade unions and impostors.

Some of us are perhaps too old to see the realisation of the dream when all of India will be prosperous, all Indians will be prosperous, but you have the great opportunity to realise that dream in the next 25 years.

India is not a poor country, India is a country with a lot of poor people. Why are they poor? They are poor because they do not have access to education, they do not have access to property, they do not have access to jobs, they do not have access to medical care, they do not have access to opportunity.

Give any Indian education, medical care, opportunity, a job, or an opportunity to create a business which along with his fellow citizens, he will build for himself a future of which he and his family will be truly satisfied. No state, no government can provide that. It's only Indians working together, Indians realising their potential, Indians reaching out to the limits of their aspirations who can do that, and for that it is not enough to be citizens of a free country; what is necessary is to believe that freedom is sought to be controlled and sorted by institutions, which have assumed monstrous proportions and which tend to tell the people of India what they should do and what they should not do.

Freedom is not won in a single day, freedom is something that you must aspire for every day and work to protect every day of your life.

What do we see here? We see here a revolution in the making, the best and the brightest students of India who have had an opportunity for an engineering education, be it civil engineering or mechanical engineering or chemical engineering, and I met some of you today, and in 16 weeks they will teach you a skill that is equal to the skill of any young man or woman anywhere in the world.

If that can be done to a young man or a woman in 16 weeks, what cannot be done if we put our minds to achieving what we want to achieve. A chemical engineer is converted to a software engineer, a civil engineer is converted into a computer programmer, a mechanical engineer is made to write software codes, and if all that can be made to happen in 16 weeks, imagine the immense power that resides in young India; how many of you know that this is the only country in the world where the working age population will continue to grow for the next 25 years. There is no other country, not even China, where the size of the working age population will continue to grow over the next 25 years.

If each one of those young men and women over the next 25 years can be given education, can be trained, can be imparted skills, can be put in a job or a business, imagine the immense wealth that he or she will create.

This place today is an attempt to catch up with the rest of the world. We missed the industrial revolution, because we were a colony. We started late but we have caught up with the best in the software industry. I am told Nandan tells rest of the world IBM is a legacy, Infosys is a future.

That is how it should be. In five years from today, the software industry in India will employ more people than any other company or group of companies of the world. In 10 years from today, we will be the largest employers in this industry.

What we have done here can be done in steel, can be done in petroleum, can be done in mining, can be done in agriculture and food products, can be done in education, can be done in aerospace industry, after all each one of these industries are built on knowledge, he who possess knowledge is the wealthiest person. We have a great tradition of knowledge in this country.

Imagine, go back to 5,000 years, simply by contemplation, imagination, and reasoning 3,000 or 4,000 years ago our forefathers were able to chart the path of plants and stars. How did they do it? They did not have these instruments, yet they were able to do it, almost with modern day accuracy.

We have a great tradition of knowledge and therefore we must know our place in the world, India's place in the world, and that is to build India as a knowledge society. Every Indian must have an education and a set of skills that will make him or her a knowledge worker. 

With knowledge at our command, with learning as part of our daily life and with aspiration, we can truly make this a great country. We can build several Infosyses in this country in different industries and businesses. We can become a giant maker of steel. We can become a giant producer of cars. We can become a giant refinery. We can become a giant producer of automobiles.

There is no industry that we cannot master and become world leaders if only we invest in making India a knowledge society.

The state has a role to play, but the state's role must that be of an enabler and allow the enterprise of individuals and groups of individuals to flourish.,That is why I said, have a healthy respect for institutions, but also have a healthy suspicion of those who man these institutions.

Today I find a gleam in your eyes, the gleam that Shri Narayana Murthy had 25 years ago. Some of you must build your own institutions while many of you will remain Infoscions perhaps for the remainder of your life, some of you must go out and build, replicate, build the new institutions; that is within your power.

What seven young men could do 25 years ago with limited resources, limited opportunities, with constraints imposed by laws, the state, with shackles imposed by the government, certainly some of you with that spirit of enterprise and leadership, can do much better. I do not say that all the shackles have been removed, I do not say that all the constraints have been removed, but surely the India today is a freer place for enterprise than the India of 25 years ago.

This place is a great opportunity for some of you to realise those dreams.

The size and scale of this dream is what is most inspiring. Today, a generation after the founders started this institution, the new generation of the leaders continue to dream big; build a campus but build the world's largest campus, build the training centre, build the world's largest training centre, build a convention centre, but build the world's largest convention centre. Bring young men and women together, but bring the largest number of young men and women together. Bring a German foreman, a South African engineer, a French chef, bring the whole world to India, just as Indians can find a place anywhere in the world, let the whole world look upon India as a destination to which they should travel.

As I spent the last hour and the half touring your campus, I thought this was a great place for education, training and perhaps for romance. I have not seen a more romantic environment than this in the last many years.

Every challenge must be converted to an opportunity. Every rival must be converted to a competitor. Every goal post must be shifted to raise our aspiration. Every one of you must dream to become another Murthy, another Nandan, another Kris.

If we can give all young Indians, and there are millions who have been denied the opportunity that you have, if we can give to all young Indians a fraction of the opportunity that you have and if you can provide the leadership, I have no doubt that we can build a great country.

Let me salute the founders of Infosys, let me salute their families, let me salute their children, let me salute all those who had reposed faith in them, the attendants who built their homes, the marketing man who got the first telephone, let me salute all those who remained steadfast to the dream of Mr Murthy and his colleagues. You walk on that path and when you walk on that path, imbibe courage, humility, and above all aspiration.

I congratulate Infosys on its 25th Anniversary Celebration. If anyone of you here, if your fathers or grandfathers had bought a share 25 years ago, you would perhaps be a multimillionaire today.

If one of you had got an ADR seven years ago in NASDAQ, you would be eight times richer today. I am confident that if you buy a share today, you will be eight times richer not in seven years, but perhaps in three years. Wealth is being created here, out of knowledge we create wealth, and that wealth like knowledge must be shared among our fellow citizens.

What I will always remember about Infosys is that it raises one's aspiration, it creates wealth, it creates knowledge, and today the greatest gift is what Murthy and others have given you, the gift of sharing that knowledge, sharing that wealth and sharing that aspiration. I am truly proud to be invited here today to be present at this great day of celebration.

Congratulations to all of you. Thank you.

P Chidambaram is the Finance Minister of India. He was speaking at the 25th anniversary celebrations of Infosys Technologies Ltd in Mysore.

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