The Art of Building Influence in India - Part 1 - The Reliance and Infosys Way

Posted on April 26, 2009 By pramitsingh Topic: Media, Politics, Indiaelections2009

It is very easy creating influence in India. In this occassional series, part 1 will focus on businessmen and influence. As is usual with most of my posts, I will be quick with this.

1. The Reliance way:
Where you literally buy into politics. The current Reliance method is to ally with a political party - Anil Ambani is with Samajwadi Party (or, is he?) and the elder Mukesh Ambani is with Congress. The founder Dhirubhai believed in having friends in all parties and so he spread the wealth around.

The late Lalit Suri perfected the all-party method. There were floors in his Intercontinental hotel in New Delhi, especially meant for political parties, regardless of party affiliations.

Then, there is the Vijay Mallya Method, where you buy into a small, obscure political party and then pay MLAs from other parties to send you to the Rajya Sabha from where you can influence law-making directly.

2. The Infosys method: While the Reliance method can be, um...parochial, the Infosys method is a bit more cerebral but just as useless. Like American methods it apes, the Infosys method is heavily influenced by the Bill Gates school of influence - make lousy/non-descript products - make money- write books - give money - make name.

First the company made its billions by doing the work of Americans at a quarter of the cost. Allegations of buying land for obscene campuses on cheap were quietly buried.

Then, the founders set out to build their respective brands. The elder Narayanmurthy started being hailed as a visionary in the media. In India, it very easy to make a name - just get some work done. And since Journalists love to coin terms and want to be known as discoverers of trends, Narayanmurthy was called the founder of 'Silicon Valley of India'. You can never, ever miss the American connection. Narayanmurthy even took on political leaders in Karnataka over governance issues. He bacame a regular on speaker circuit, preaching to the converted. However, Bangalore is the same, in fact worse. There was talk of Narayanmurthy as a President but somehow it dod not work out. Now it was the time of the younger co-founder Nilekeni.

Nilekeni wrote a book on how to make India better. Yeah, right. Join the queue. The book is a pastiche of newspaper editorials you read everyday. But, Nilekeni was lucky. Around 2005, A New York Times journalist, Thomas Friedman discovers that Globalization is flattening the world, almost 7 years after the first Call Center was opened in India and almost 20 years after Infosys was found. In his book, Friedman quotes Nilekeni as saying that 'the world is flat.' Voila! Instant recognition.

His book out, Nilekeni, a wealthy man, travels around the world, giving lectures on what else, bettering India, impressing western Journalists who annoint him as the Bill Gates of India. I keep forgetting what piece of software or hardware Infosys invented. I remember though that Bill Gates was working on a Road Traffic software when he was barely 20.

In true Indian style, Nilekeni has his whole family in the influence-building business. His wife now writes on social development issues for Mint a business newspaper, and also runs a NGO. Incidentally, Nilekeni's vision is limited to books and lectures. He is not running for elections. A pity, the guy could easily have funded a brand new political party and get his overpaid workers to stand as candidates from their respective constituencies. If nothing else, the fancy party would surely have been India's most enlightened political party.

Next up: How to build influence, the political party style.

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