The Maverick Effect is in the words of Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy ‘a definitive and authoritative biography of Nasscom’ - India’s 34-year non-profit that has done a commendable job of nurturing and maturing India’s software industry.
The book is a story of a band of dreamers who came together to transform India, change its image, evolve its model from body-shopping to offshore development. Agreed these mavericks were helped by the opening up of the economy but they had to literally cut the jungles to get better broadband connectivity, creation of STPs, SEZs, changes to Income Tax, Customs, Excise and Income Tax Acts.
Harish Mehta, through a series of descriptive incidents, admits seeding the idea of Nasscom was full of challenges that included having to sell the idea, often times single handedly, to the software peers, staving off the hardware players who favoured a vertical within the MAIT (Manufacturers Association of IT Industry).
Mehta started off as a Database Manager in the US in the mid 1970s but soon realised that he would be better off making India his karmabhoomi and set up a one-person consulting firm before joining Pravin Gandhi’s Hinditron as a partner. The years in the US gave him an exposure to free enterprise and entrepreneurship. One of his challenges was to explain the value of software to stakeholders - Bureaucrats, regulators and elected leaders. How do you import or export it? Or tax it?
Tired of explaining what software was led Harish to persuade 15 influential IT industry peers in Mumbai to form an industry body that could pitch the software industry’s interests to the government.
The idea was taken to the other metros subsequently. It took several meetings to persuade FC Kohli of TCS and a few key opponents of the idea from within MAIT. Nasscom was finally born with 40-founder members and Harish Mehta was unanimously chosen as the first chairperson in 1989.
The author devotes substantial part of the book to the first decade of Nasscom that coincides with the term of its President Dewang Mehta. Nasscom and its members, powered by Dewang’s strong analytical and communication skills, made it the de facto voice of the software industry. Government officials sought Nasscom’s views before taking major policy decisions, and often times accepted them. Harish describes his work chemistry with Dewang well beyond his term as Chairman of Nasscom and details how Dewang excelled in creating events that attracted CEOs of global software companies.
Nasscom saw its role as changing the image of India from a land of snake charmers to a software development powerhouse. It built the ‘India Inc.’ brand. What helped was that Nasscom in its first 10-12 years was lucky to have the ears of IT secretary N Vittal, National Informatics Centre Chief Dr N Seshagiri, VSNL CMD BK Syngal, elected leaders like AP Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, Union IT Minister Pramod Mahajan and the wisdom of IT industry veteran FC Kohli.
The amendments to the Indian IT Act to effectively protect copyright, directives to government departments to use licensed software, setting up of SEZs with import duty and tax concessions, setting up dedicated leases broadband line at declining prices are among the biggest achievements of Nasscom’s lobbying.
The author’s story-telling prowess comes to the fore as he describes his early days at Derasar, the Jain Temple that exposed him to the tenets of Jainism, personal ambition to excel in studies and work in the US, the highs and lows in his personal life, the rough world of business partnerships, his mentoring of Dewang and the shock of his sudden demise.
The book also deals with how Nasscom’s third President, Som Mittal, proactively dealt with the disastrous news of Ramalinga Raju fudging Satyam’s books of accounts over many years because it could damage the reputation of the software industry if Satyam was to discontinue its operations.
In the end, the book leaves the reader on a new high as there is hardly an Indian who has not been touched by the IT revolution that resulted in millions of software and ancillary services jobs thus creating a whole new generation of high middle income homes in every corner of the country.
(The reviewer served as a brand custodian of NIIT and NIIT Technologies for two decades, and now counsels organisations in reputation building)
The Maverick Effect: The Inside Story of India’s IT Revolution
By Harish Mehta
₹699; 398 pages