How Narayana Murthy Went From Being A Leftist to A Capitalist

Narayana Murthy might currently be advocating for hard work with 70-hour work weeks, but in his own youth, he too was a bleeding heart leftist.

Infosys founder Narayana Murthy has said he was a “strong leftist” when he was young. “As a student, I was a strong leftist because my father was a high school teacher. He was a great admirer of Jawaharlal Nehru,” he told Zerodha co-founder Nikhil Kamath at an event. “Of course, as you know, Nehru believed in socialism. Every day we were fed a very stable diet of socialism,” he added.

But like many others, Murthy soon grew out of his leftist dalliance when he learnt more about how the world really worked. Murthy had traveled to Europe when he was just out of college, and was exposed to the wonders of capitalism. “When I went to France, I saw prosperity everywhere, lots of food. Therefore, I was transformed from a confused leftist to a compassionate capitalist,” he said.

Murthy says he has been a capitalist since then, and believes it is the strongest force to bring prosperity to the world and pull people out of poverty. “Compassionate capitalism, based on the twin pillars of free market and entrepreneurship, is the only solution for a poor country like India to become a prosperous country. Not socialism, not communism, none of those,” he says.

And Murthy should know. He’s seen both sides of India’s ideological divide, starting from Nehruvian socialism carried out by earlier Congress governments, to the post-1991 embrace of globalism and capitalist policies, most recently by Prime Minister Modi. Murthy had seen his share of struggles under Nehruvian socialism — in the 80s, he once had to make 50 trips to Delhi over 3 years just to be able to procure a single computer. But as India’s economy opened up, Infosys’ fortunes flourished. Today the company employs over 3 lakh Indians, and the IT sector is credited with creating an Indian middle class that’s upwardly mobile, aspirational, and can compete with the best in the world. And much of this wouldn’t have been possible had Murthy not given up his leftist ideas when he was still young.

“If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain,” Winston Churchill is supposed to have said. It appear that Murthy’s life followed a similar trajectory.