PR Perspectives of Narayan Murthy and the Pope

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As a public relations professional, I can’t but compare and contrast the images and styles of Infosys’ Narayan Murthy and Pope Francis. Both have come up from mediocrity, both have struggled hard and both are today opinion leaders in their own right.

But there are many differences between them and their methodologies from a PR perspective.

Pope Francis is a simple man devoid of complications. He had a crush on a girl very early in life like most of us endearing him to us as a true human being.

Pope Francis was once a bouncer in a bar which exposes him, warts and all, quite apart from his lofty image today as the head of the Catholic Church.

Do you know that he paid for his own hotel bill while standing in the queue behind Fathers, who had lost out in the Papal race, after being anointed as the Pope? He could have thrown rank and moved ahead in the queue.

Most important of all, despite tremendous opposition and even the wrath of the Mafia, Pope Francis is cleaning up the Augean stables in the Catholic world. He has a gentle way of delivering not-so-gentle blows and nobody is spared, least of all the Priests themselves.

I do not believe that Pope Francis is playing to the gallery but all that he stands for is giving him, unwittingly, a solid as rock PR image. In short, Pope Francis is the best PR practitioner without claiming to be one.

Cut to Infosys’ Narayan Murthy. The media and the stock markets look up to him as a numero uno IT czar, and rightly so. But I have been watching his behavior and reactions for some time now and the PR blunders he commits are enough to make anyone’s hair stand up in absolute embarrassment.

Narayan Murthy wanted our “Vande Mataram” (who does not know this well known poem by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay which played a vital role in the Indian Independence movement?), to be rendered in western classical music form. Narayan Murthy’s logic for this was that his thinking was justified as he has a medley of international employees at his Bangalore campus and an ethnic rendition of this master piece was out of place. What Narayan Murthy conveniently forgot is that he and his wife Sudha are funding research on the Vedas, so steeped in the culture and tradition of India. He should consider himself lucky that the Karnataka Government did not imprison him even if it was for one night on this issue as they had planned.

I don’t have the courage to ask Pope Francis who his idol is, but I can guess that he might come up with a name like Jesus Christ, John the Baptist or Elija revered by all in the Holy Christian and even the secular God fearing world. But Narayan Murthy has gone on record that he is a great admirer of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. Who was Lee Kuan Yew?

Born Harry Lee Kuan Yew, 16 September 1923, he is a Singaporean politician. Often referred to as the Father of Singapore or by the initials LKY, he was the first Prime Minister of Singapore, governing for three decades. He is also widely recognised as the founding father of modern Singapore.

But coming from a democratic Narayan Murthy born and given an opportunity to excel in democratic India, his choice of this Singapore politician seems to be a very wrong one as LKY is referred to as among “The Most Successful Dictators Of The Past Century”. LKY literally stole democracy from Lim Chin Siong and the people of Singapore. Narayan Murthy’s adulation of LKY doesn’t stop here as he is a member of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities’ International Advisory Panel.

It makes me glad to follow the life and various moves of Pope Francis. I have looked at him in the manner I look at people and situations from a PR angle. It is possible I have overlooked his faults. Also we are all human and again it is possible that something about his life may emerge later that are not so pleasant. It happens to many of us. After all, we are mortals. Also it is possible the Catholic Church has hired a celestial PR agency to white wash Pope Francis’ image! Be that as it may, Pope Francis has any day got more positives than negatives going for him.

As for Narayan Murthy, it does pain me when he says and does the things he does which reduces him in my estimation. Some of his actions make me feel he is either immature or lacking in basic common sense, unbecoming of the larger than life image and hero worship he has acquired today despite beginning with no silver spoon.

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