Over the last few years, a growing number of people and institutions have been labelled “anti-national” and accused of belonging to the “tukde tukde gang” — students like Umar Khalid and Disha Ravi, teachers like Anand Teltumbde, activists like Sudha Bharadwaj, entire universities and those protesting against the CAA, NRC and farm laws. This name-calling has had disturbing consequences — a chilling effect on free speech and dissent, a narrowing of public spaces under the burden of a restrictive and unforgiving patriotism. These labels also act as dog whistles to the mob, which often hounds those so targeted in both digital and real-world spaces. Now, the “tukde tukde gang” has been expanded by the Panchjanya — a publication associated with the Sangh Parivar, that counts as its first editor BJP stalwart and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — to include Infosys.The RSS has distanced itself from the Panchjanya piece, but this is a step down a very slippery slope.
By any reckoning, Infosys Limited is a blue-chip Indian company, part of the backbone of the IT and related services industry. It was listed on the Nasdaq as early as 1999 and, long before tech “unicorns” became a frequent occurrence, had a billion-dollar valuation. The company, whose founders did not inherit but made their wealth, has been, and continues to be, a powerful symbol of an aspirational and confident IT and corporate sector, a testament to the rise of 21st-century, post-liberalisation India. The Panchjanya cover story titled “Saakh aur Aaghat (Reputation and Harm)”, which alleges that Infosys is in cahoots with “Naxals, Leftists and the tukde tukde gang” to try and “destabilise the Indian economy” cites as reason for these entirely unsubstantiated accusations the alleged problems in the functioning of the Income Tax Portal that Infosys has been developing. It is no one’s case that the tech giant should not be held accountable for glitches in a system that is crucial to filing tax returns. And the government is within its rights to demand that the company fix these issues – as Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has already done. But a technical software glitch is not a conspiracy. Now more than ever, the Indian economy, already ailing before the pandemic, needs investment from, and cooperation of, the private sector. The “Atmanirbharta” vision outlined by the prime minister, or the Centre’s asset monetisation drive, is unlikely to succeed if organisations close to the ruling party and its ideological fountainhead are seen to target corporations and question their patriotism.
The ball is also in the court of India Inc. Barring a few exceptions, corporate and industry leaders have maintained a studied — and perhaps strategic — silence about the vitriol that has been seeping into the public discourse, and corroding it. Now that the guns are trained on one of their own, it may be time to speak up. Both their bottom-lines and the national interest are at stake.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 7, 2021 under the title ‘Reputation & harm’.