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Impressive Men of India

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Dewang Mehta
  Dewang Mehta

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 India’s software exports. But the credit for championing the cause of India’s 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 industry’s 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 India’s potential of software exports based on what McKinsey had to say. India’s textiles or gems or jewelry exports inspite of having similar potential have suffered because of lack of association’s championing their cause and also because of lack of people of Narayan Murthy and Aziz Premji’s 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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