This column has
rarely sung the eulogy of individuals. But the time has come. Dewang Mehta, the long
serving President of NASSCOM, passed away in his sleep while visiting Australia as part of
a high powered software delegation led by the IT minister Pramod Mahajan. In India we have
seen very few powerful industrial lobbies acting professionally to preserve the interests
of the industry concerned. FICCI today mostly comprises of foggy dodeys (though Amit Mitra
has made a difference in recent times). CII, though far more successful than the other
such associations, has such diverse interests that they often end up acting at
cross-purposes (Remember the tiff between the steel lobby and the auto lobby a couple of
years back?). AIAM (of the auto industry) is rarely heard in public and CMA (cement
association) often draws flak for cartelisation. The steel industry despite numerous
attempts has failed to come together.
In this backdrop, NASSCOM is a refreshing change. Its rise of course has been in tandem
with the rise in Indias software exports. But the credit for championing the cause
of Indias software industry goes to NASSCOM and to a large extent to Mr. Devang
Mehta, who with his media friendliness came to be the spokesperson for the industry.
Whether in the power corridors in Delhi or the silicon corridors of Bangalore or the
journalists at Forbes or Business Week Mr. Mehta day in day out championed the
cause of the Indian software industry. Alongwith Narayan Murthy (to a lesser extent the
media shy Aziz Premji) he was the best-known brand ambassador of the Indian industry.
He was not without his detractors. Some people accuse him of hogging the limelight at the
expense of others. It maybe the Indian crab syndrome at work. A few weeks back I was in
discussions with an office bearer of CSI (Computer Society of India) and I asked him how
did CSI not champion the cause of the software industry. His answer was that before
NASSCOM was formed there were differences within CSI on how much emphasis should be placed
on software by different industry constituents. Some software companies, miffed at what
they felt was inadequate attention to the software industry, went on to form NASSCOM. But
for this tiff, the Indian IT industry may not have got the spokesperson it got.
But there are lessons in what Dewang Mehta achieved. The lessons are as valid for an
industry association as for a sports association. To a large measure the success of
NASSCOM can be attributed to the fact that they had at their helm a professional with full
salary and perks. He was not doing honorary service at NASSCOM. And this to my mind is the
single biggest difference. I doubt with part time honorary responsibilities if even
Narayan Murthy would have done as good a job as Dewang Mehta. An articulate young
professional working full time to the industrys cause that was paying his expenses
and the rest as they say is history. He got McKinsey to do a study and the world accepted
Indias potential of software exports based on what McKinsey had to say. Indias
textiles or gems or jewelry exports inspite of having similar potential have suffered
because of lack of associations championing their cause and also because of lack of
people of Narayan Murthy and Aziz Premjis capabilities, integrity and vision.
While Dewang Mehta would be remembered for long for his contribution to championing the
cause of India's software industry and his Elvis Presley look alike side burns, people who
have heard him speak would also remember him for the various jokes/ anecdotes he used to
often crack. I reproduce out here a few of the same. Smile, remember him by his sense of
humor and pray that may his soul rest in peace.
On dot.coms: India had its first dot.com organization long before the rest of the world.
Which was this organization? Answer NASSCOM.
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