Public attacks on India’s two iconic corporate houses by ministers in the BJP-led government has rattled the business community in the country who fear running foul of the ruling regime, said media reports.
What’s made matters worse is that a magazine run by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members recently published an article lashing out at the tech giant Infosys for not resolving glitches in the income tax website it manages even going to the extent of suggesting an ‘anti-national’ conspiracy behind their inability to solve this problem.
The article also raised a hair-raising question whether an ‘anti-national power’ was trying to hurt India’s economic interests through Infosys?
This diatribe by a magazine run by RSS members calling Infosys ‘anti-national’ for letting down the tax system, has reportedly sent ‘a chill’ through the industry now clearly wary of falling on the wrong side of the PM Modi government, said a Reuters report.
Last month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman “summoned” the Infosys CEO Salil Parikh after the new income tax portal set up by the company was shut for two days in a row. In an unusual step, Sitharaman made it public by announcing this summons on Twitter.
In the meeting with Parikh, Sitharaman had underlined her concerns over the continuing glitches even two and half months after the website’s launch, which, the minister pointed out, was also delayed, said an NDTV report.
Sitharaman had asked for an explanation from Infosys for the ‘repeated issues’ faced by taxpayers and gave the company time till September 15 to resolve the issue.
Again, last month, the commerce minister Piyush Goyal had roundly criticised the Tata Group for opposing the proposed stringent e-commerce rules framed by his ministry under the Consumer Protection Act, arguing that business practices followed by many home-grown corporations went against ‘national interests’.
Goyal had urged local businesses to think beyond profits and desist from bypassing local laws and work towards making the country self-sufficient, said media reports. The Tata group had complained that the new rules will impact their e-commerce plans like preventing its joint venture partners such as Starbucks from selling goods on Tata’s digital shopping sites.
PM Modi’s government so far has not got in crosshairs with domestic companies, especially, Infosys, the poster boys of Indian IT and the great Indian corporate house, The Tatas. The Modi government has been largely battling with Big tech foreign giants like Amazon, Facebook etc. And has always championed Indian big businesses urging them to shore up investments to drive India’s atmanirbhar growth.
The Reuters article quoting five industry sources said that the latest events have unnerved business leaders and they were worried whether PM Modi was going to come down heavily on homegrown giants as well.
One venture-capital executive even said the government’s heavy handling of the Infosys and Tata situation smacked of “harassment” of businesses, while another executive working for a global consultancy said “everyone is scared” as businesses don’t want to rub the government the wrong way.
The article goes on to quote image guru Dilip Cherian who said that this kind of public attack on ‘iconic elements of Indian businesses’ is driving home the message that enterprises must conform, not just with tax issues, but with other government programmes.
RC Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki too defended Infosys stating that the company had bolstered India’s software reputation globally. And that they have to explain the glitches, ‘but it doesn’t mean there is a conspiracy to damage the country,’ he said, reported Reuters.
Pointing out that companies should be held accountable, a RSS senior member asked why corporates should not be pulled up and whether they considered themselves to be a holy cow? The RSS member saw nothing untoward in the way the government was publicly shaming the Indian companies.
The key players in this drama like Infosys and Tata have not commented in the article but clearly there seems to be a sense of disquiet among members of India Inc. None of the industry head honchos were willing to stick their neck out to comment on this situation.
An Indian Express editorial however urged India Inc to stand up and break the ‘studied – and perhaps strategic – silence about the vitriol’ in the public domain.
The article in the RSS backed journal ‘Paynchjanya’ had said due to glitches in both the goods and services tax (GST) and income tax return websites developed by Infosys, “taxpayers’ trust in the country’s economy had taken a hit. “Is it that anti-national forces via Infosys are trying to hurt India’s economic interests?” the article asked.
The article said it does not, however, have evidence to support its theories, but alleged Infosys has been accused in the past of helping “Naxalites, leftists and tukde-tukde gangs”.
Today, India Inc is a worried lot. They fear that others may be targeted and face such backlash for any lapses on their part. The message that is percolating down is that these moves indicate that the government is not ‘pro-business’ and this is going to cause more sleepless nights for business heads in the days to come.