16-Dec-2007

Politics & Facts

NR Narayana Murthy on fact-based decision-making (page 13):
Chennai: Infosys mentor N R Narayana Murthy on Saturday flayed politicians for taking “ego-centric” stand on several critical issues, including Indo-US nuclear deal, without properly studying the facts. “Most of our politicians do not have the details of the Indo-US nuclear deal. However, they are taking a stand”, he said speaking at a management seminar organised by the Great Lakes Institute of Management here on Saturday.

“When I ask them have you read the 123 agreement, please tell me what areas which you see are bad, very few of them are in a position to give facts. However, they have already taken a position,”

...Advising the students, he said, “please avoid taking decisions based on ego, based on perceptions and go for an analysis based on data and facts. In the end, everybody is happy.”
No one denies the merits of fact-based decision-making. And one respects NR Narayana Murthy immensely for doing what he has done with Infosys and for his 'High thinking and simple living', but there are some issues with the above formulation with respect to the nuclear deal.

1. The other party involved in this deal is not fact-based. It's record on Iraq, Iran, Kyoto/global warming, Pakistan - and all this in the very recent past that I remember - speak of a singular contempt for fact and a love of self-interest above everything else. Do we want to deal with such an entity without closing all loopholes in the agreement?

2. There are some salient facts quite apart from the text of the 123 agreement itself which should make one reject the deal.
  • The record of the UPA government in being pressurised by the US on account of the deal, into acting quite differently from how it would have normally is quite poor. The Iran vote, the IPI gas pipeline, removing explicitly pro-pipeline Mani Shankar Aiyer from the Petroleum Ministry, cooling off of relations with Russia - all these are examples.
  • The Hyde Act which everyone agrees is quite disagreeable, and the fact that there is no explicit clause which prevents the US from taking recourse to its domestic laws (e.g., the Hyde Act) to pull out of the 123 agreement - though such a clause is explicitly mentioned in the 123 agreement with China.
3. Politics and foreign policy cannot be entirely driven by fact. If it were, the West would not need to be dragged kicking and screaming to sign the Kyoto deal. Hundreds of thousands would not have lost their lives in Iraq. The courts would not be required to force, say, the Delhi government to make CNG compulsory in vehicles. I think that is why politics is called the art of the possible.

4. Forget politics, even some corporate policies are based on some vague thoughts without any basis in facts. Take for example, the matter of clothes in some IT based companies. Some of them require formal clothing on almost all days. This includes wearing of ties on certain days, which meets with lots of natural chaffing at the bit given the day-time temperatures in many Indian cities. Some companies going to the extent of advising their female employees not to forget to use dupattas! What are the possible reasons for such a policy?
  • Productivity? Google among other highly productive companies don't have formal clothing rules. In fact, I believe Googlers/googlies are allowed to bring their pets to the office!
  • Making favourable impressions on visiting clients? Has any fact-based study been made on whether clients give more weightage to clothes that their vendors' employees wear compared to the quality of deliverables. I've not heard of any such study.
  • Getting employees used to wearing formals and getting the tie-knot just right? But a training session (or sessions) before the employee flies to the land of formality would probably be just as effective - have any facts been gathered on the efficacy of the two methods?
Where are the facts on whos basis this policy exists?

5. Sometime ago, NR Narayana Murthy called for a road on piles to Electronics City in Bangalore to reduce commute times. The government jumped to it promptly and the road is coming up. I have not come across any facts about the cost of the road, what its benefits are compared to the costs, what alternatives were considered, how exactly it would help when the rest of the city is still jamming away like Jimi Hendrix, etc. What does one say about that?

Of course, one would also love to know how many of the deal's supporters have read the 123 agreement in full.

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