The IT sector must negotiate with the politics, policies and polemics of democratic India.
There is an apocryphal story about how the Oxbridge Club had a competition for the best headline that would include elements of sex, royalty, mystery and 'whodunit.' The winner was Who raped the queen? Funnily, even that piece of crafty intellectual fiction has found echoes in India's recent tryst with IT royalty, schoolyard sex, and the Delhi police's universally declaimed heading the list of whodunit; Avnish Bajaj.
The arrest of Bajaj, the CEO of baazee.com, the Indian arm of eBay, is the inevitable result of 'shining' India's tryst with Bharat, the vast unwashed majority that populate this country. After the liberalisation of the '90s, and its avowedly rich economic harvest, it was time for a correction. The correction that needs to accommodate, co-opt, and eventually share a vision of India that includes the majority who are still far from sharing the pie that the world of the English educated are orgasmic about; the six per cent GDP growth that makes India the world's biggest economies.
This the majority that has been bearing the brunt, and carrying the burden of having to live under laws that were formulated by the Raj, that is still a largely unchanged body of hopelessly outdated jurisprudence. Avnish Bajaj's arrest is the regulation case of a 18th century mentality that informs the application of a 21st century law.
When India enacted its Information Technology Act in 2000, there was much reason to be pleased. We were one of the frontrunners with it along with habitual leaders of liberalism in the world, like the Scandinavian countries. But Bajaj's arrest underscores that eventually Nasscom and the rest of the IT-enabled hoarding world lit up in its own glow need inevitably negotiate the wider truth of the India versus Bharat debate.
The IT revolution happened because technology adroitly sidestepped the social-economic realities of the country. It was the economic change swept in by Manmohanomics that carved out the exclusive space for it to thrive. Now that it has reached critical mass, it is time to reorient the revolution to operate within its external realities. Much like the political equivalent of rebels eventually fighting elections and then ruling without the rancour of their rebellion.
So then the question is, what should the Infocom boomers do?
A widening of their aperture, for one. The Nasscom has remained shackled to its dynamic role as a pressure group for the new prodigal industry. It has to expand itself to a role beyond just lobbying the government for IT-friendly policies. Its tryst with the drafting of the IT law was the beginning. It will have to eventually raise the bar on the industry's interface with the larger, non-wired society.
It already has among its many stalwarts serious heavyweights in the field of opinion making. Narayana Murthy or Azim Premji as the elder statesmen and the Nandan Nilekeni of the current crop have all, at various times, engaged with social issues in their personal capacities. They are the new role models for a vast number to students across the country for their transparently ethical, and well formulated corporate social responsibility policies that they have initiated within their areas of operation.
It is time that these also move to a vaster field. Besides wiring up villages and connecting them to the advantages of technology, and individual championing of causes that most immediately reflect their sector's interest; like the airport in Bangalore. They might, with Nasscom spearheading brainstorming sessions among the leading opinion makers of the IT world to engage with the public sphere and the greater good of the greater people.
Avnish Bajaj, eventually, will retire unhurt from the current imbroglio. He has, of course, had to spend a few days in a Delhi jail. Traumatic as it might have been for him personally, and his family. It might be a great experience for him, in retrospect. It is obvious that he has got the sympathy and the support of a huge swathe of India's population. And, he definitely will benefit from the generally high wisdom of Indian judiciary.
But the episode is also the symbolic intrusion of the harsh reality beyond the air-conditioned, climate controlled environs of the honeycomb that are information technology offices across select cities and towns of India. The elder statesman of that world, will have to appoint its own panchayat, chose its own sarpanch, and begin negotiating with the politics, policies and polemics of democratic India. And, that means, move slowly, steadily, but above all surely, towards a greater involvement with the country's political destiny.
also see : Get our IT Act together