IT czars are insufferable – Ravi Shanker Kapoor

What is it with India’s IT czars that invariably makes them insufferable bores and often dangerous idiots? Consider Wipro chairman Azim Premji’s suggestion that the super-rich should be taxed more, a suggestion that was lapped up enthusiastically and implemented quickly by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. However, before analyzing the misplaced philanthropy of Premji and Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, who welcomed the tax on the super-rich, I’ll tell a joke. Perhaps it can make you do what Budget 2013 failed to do—smile a little.

A guest was aghast seeing that the host’s son, a very young boy, was incessantly hammering nails in the drawing room on anything wooden—sofa sets, tables, stools, chairs, drawers, and so on. Horrified by the brat’s activity, he asked the host, “Why don’t you stop the child? What he is doing will cost you a lot.”

The host, however, was unperturbed. He replied, “Oh, there won’t be big losses. After all, we own a hardware shop.”

Like the harebrained hardware shop-owner, Murthy has also missed the point: the imposition of a surcharge is an abomination, not because it will hurt the rich but because it strengthens the impression that India under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is determined to bring back the bad old days of socialism, the ancien regime which fostered Leviathan, promoted venality and cronyism, discouraged endeavor, and penalized enterprise. The danger is not that Ratan Tata and Shahrukh Khan would have smaller homes or less swanky cars; the real threat is that the predatory instincts of the dirigiste beast will be sharpened.

Talking to a news channel, Murthy said, “I am quite happy about this surcharge because at the end of the day, in a country like India where there is so much of poverty, people earning Rs 1 crore shouldn’t crib about paying a 10 per cent surcharge. Therefore, I welcome it. We should all pay reasonable taxes in this country. We don’t pay any tax on our dividends and long-term capital gains tax is zero. So, if you consider all those things, this is peanuts.”

Peanuts or dessert, surcharge on the super-rich is bad. For, as Winston Churchill said, “There is no such thing as a good tax.”

Anyway, Chidambaram makes no bones about why he needs money—to augment welfare schemes, to help the poor, for equity. Of course, what he does not mention is that all these tax-propelled measures would also enlarge the size and the scope of government. And when the juggernaut of state moves, it doesn’t discriminate who gets trampled—the rich or the poor. However, the rich often alter the course of the juggernaut, but the poor have nowhere to go.

For instance, the Nehru regime started a war against the Right to Property; which was carried further by his daughter and ultimately led to its downgrade (from a Fundamental Right to a legal right) within three decades of the Constitution coming into force. While the wealthy and the powerful suffered by way of litigation and reduced properties, the real sufferers have been small peasants, tribal population, and other ‘marginalized’ communities; their lands have been acquired with impunity, mostly without proper compensation. So, if the government’s right to fleece the wealthy for the greater common good is accepted in principle, its right to tax the not-so-rich could not be contested with conviction.

Murthy is credulous at best and a pernicious influence on public discourse at worst. According to him, Chidambaram “has also enhanced allocation to areas that matter to the poor and the middle class. He has stressed on areas like education, scholarships, schedule tribes, food security, urban housing. All these are, I think, things that we have to stand up and salute and appreciate.”

The IT tycoon, who has acquired a halo around him because of his success and his penchant for pomposity, seems to have completely cut himself off the reality. He is unaware that the entitlement programmes initiated by Chidambaram’s government are mostly scam-ridden, apart from being abhorrent in principle—abhorrent because they are the means to make serfs out of citizens. By the way, the 29th of his 30 lessons, as posted on his website, says ‘Never Lose the Common Touch.’ Evidently, he confuses political claptrap with the common touch.

In a way, Murthy is in a pitiable state: he has started taking politicians’ rhetoric seriously. This is indeed the worst form of senility.

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