Posts Tagged ‘IT’

Faqir Chand Kohli (1924-2020)

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on December 6th, 2020 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Faqir Chand Kohli (1924-2020)
Panjab Engineering College Chandigarh

Rajesh Kochhar

Faqir Chand Kohli, recognized as father of outsourcing to India, is a very well studied subject. I am going to spend my time on giving factual information on his pre-fame days and family background. This information is not available at one place. I will then make some comments of an analytical nature.
AS many of you know, Lahore was a major centre for film production. At the time of Partition, film people shifted to Bombay. A similar thing happened in the field of science and technology. Lahore was an outstanding educational centre with well-regarded colleges, university, and engineering college. Persons born in the 1920s completed their education by 1947, received overseas government scholarships before and after independence, and returned with high qualifications.

Partitioned Punjab as well as Delhi were traumatized and could not have offered these foreign trained young men anything. Even if Partition had not taken place, North India did not have the wherewithal to make use of their talent and training. Many of them therefore headed for Bombay and Bangalore.

One such young man was Kohli. He had his early education in Peshawar after which he came to Lahore to join the most prestigious Colege there, Government College. He obtained two degrees from Panjab University: BA Honours in English, and BSc Honours School in Physics in which he was a gold medallist. So far, I have not been able to ascertain the exact years of his examination.

In 1946 he left for Queens University Kingston, Canada, from where he obtained his Bachelors in engineering. He moved to MIT from where he obtained a Masters. It would be useful to get copies of his applications and CV from these institutions. Kohli returned to India in 1951 and joined the House of Tatas which became his karma-bhoomi.

Kohli’s first name Faqir is ironic. It must have been given to ward off evil eye, because the family was extremely well-off. His father’s name was Govind Ram Kohli. He ran ran a huge business under the name Kirpa Ram Brothers. They were drapers and outfitters. Peshawar was a very big cantonment and Kirpa Ram Brothers catered to military officers. Their products carried the tag ‘By Appointment. H.E. The Commander in Chief in India’. Most rich students in Lahore were not high performers, and most bright students were drawn from lower or lower-middle class families. Kohli must have a rare type of student in Lahore who was equally rich and bright.

Kohli belonged to a Khatri subset known as Khukhrain. ( Examples in public eye are ex-PM Dr Manmohan Singh and film star Dev Anand.) The Khukhrain biradari comprises castes such as Kohli, Anand, Chadda, Sethi, Sahni, and some others. They married among themselves and maintained close ties. Kohli’s mother was a Sethi, and his wife a Sahni. This cohesiveness was a source of strength to Kohli. He would not have been entirely self-supporting in sojourn in North America. His family and relatives would have suffered due to Partition, but Kohli was kept insulated from financial problems at home.

His mother’s side during his student days was very wealthy and openly nationalist. Her mother’s brother was Kanshi Ram Sethi, who supported Lala Lajpat Rai, and  even want to jail for his nationalist activities.
A person in the family, far more innovative than Kohli would be,  was his nani, mother’s mother, Lakshmi Devi. She came from a modest background and did not bring any dowry. But she was exceptionally gifted mathematically, was a clear thinker, and a great help to her husband in his business. They owned salt mines in the famous salt range. Salt was brought on camels, and distributed in the region. Lakshmi Devi decided that there was no need to send back the camels who could be sold. Rawalpindi (like Peshawar) was a big cantonment, and the army a big buyer of camels. As it turned out, camels brought in more money than salt.

Only yesterday (on 5 December 2020) I located FC Kohli’s son, Sanjai Kohli, who studied at IIT Bombay, is a USA-based entrepreneur, and like his father associated with IEEE, as an elected Fellow. I have requested him for his reminiscence, but it is too early to expect a response. Sanjai Kohli told me his mother’s maiden surname is Sahni. Although she married Faqir Chand after his return from USA, her family was a wealthy and influential family, also in Rawalpindi.

We celebrate, and rightly so, achievements of pioneers and visionaries. But it is also important to place their work in a broader context so that we may learn from them in new circumstances also.

Thomas Carlyle believed that “The history of the world is but the biography of great men”. My own prescription is somewhat different.
I would like to suggest that ‘ History chooses the hour, and the hour produces the hero’.

A combination of factors helped Kohli find a place in history. The Tatas enjoyed world reputation for their professionalism and ethics. Reputed companies in the world were happy to collaborate with them. They were the first corporate house to appreciate the role of computers. They had very capable staff and access to two great intellectual centres, TIFR and IISc. Kohli’s credentials as MIT alumnus opened doors in USA for him and his employers. The most momentous development as it turned out was Tata’s alliance with Burroughs. Kohli was compelled to focus on software because India was still stuck on import substitution. Now that economic policies and thinking have changed, Kohli 2.0 today will surely have focused on speedy value addition in software and in hardware manufacture. //

China’s and India’s different goals (2007)

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on December 7th, 2008 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment
Commentary: China’s and India’s different goals

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New Delhi, India — China and India are the world’s largest countries in terms of population. Both are enjoying a high rate of economic growth. But that is where the similarity ends. Very farsightedly, China is planning for the next 50 or 100 years, while India is busy savoring the moment.China exports goods worth US$700 billion every year, giving it a whopping trade surplus of US$100 billion. China is no longer interested in merely being the United States’ sweatshop, however. It has developed geopolitical ambitions and has the wherewithal to achieve them. Not being a democracy is a great help. The transition cost is low. China is fond of giving the analogy of social suffering in England when it made the transition from a traditional to industrial economy — and China has the advantage of not having a Charles Dickens around. If its totalitarianism can hold, China will achieve its goals.

A few years ago the Chinese deputy minister of science visited India’s National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, of which I was then the director. During conversations on low wages in China he made a significant point, to the effect that, since China was not in a position to compete with the West on technologies of today, it was making money from technologies of yesterday to invest in those of the future.

In contrast, India is happy playing a marginal role in the West’s technologies of today. While China is manufacturing goods at low cost and selling them at a profit to the West, India is training its top-class manpower at high cost and supplying it to the West at low cost. The most significant aspect of its flaunted software-driven services sector is its underemployment. A large number of young men and women are working beneath their intellect, training and skills for the sake of a lowly monthly salary of a few hundred dollars, which translates into a neat rupee packet.

Although India likes to imagine it has become an IT hub, facts and figures do not support this claim. India has 15 percent of the world’s population. It is only in poverty-related indices that India’s share is higher than 15 percent. In all indices related to education, industry or technology, India does not have a share larger than 2-3 percent.

In 2006, India earned a gross amount of US$22 billion from software-related exports. This is a small figure. First, it is a gross figure. From this we should deduct the amount spent on importing computer hardware and branded software to arrive at the net figure – which is not known, but could be as low as half the gross figure. (My guess is that India’s computer-related imports in all sectors are more than its exports.)

In contrast to this US$22 billion, India earned US$24 billion from money sent home by Indians living and working abroad — two-thirds of which came from the United States and the Gulf countries. This would constitute most of the earnings of semi-skilled or unskilled workers abroad and a part of what Indian professionals earn in the United States.

China earned about US$50 billion from exporting low-tech stuff like toys and sports goods to the United States. The point here is that India’s highly skilled persons are doing low-tech work at salaries that are low by international standards.

China seems to be saying to the West: “This is a beautiful house you are living in. Get out because I want to live here.”

India seems to be saying: “You have a lovely house here. Please permit me to stay in the outhouse.”

India must move beyond superficial IT prowess (2007)

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on December 1st, 2008 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

The Tribune, Chandigarh,2 February 2007)

by Rajesh Kochhar

A nation can be accurately judged by what it considers to be worthy of celebration. Upper India has been rather hasty in trumpeting its success on the IT front.

Given our felicity with the English language, our propensity to appropriate clever phrases from the lexicons of others, and our willingness to suspend our own judgment so as to savour motivated praise showered by the outsiders, we have persuaded ourselves that India is an IT superpower, that Bangalore is our silicon valley, India is now a world hotspot for innovation, and the like.

Facts and figures do not support this picture. Countries become rich not from wages but from royalties. India is still in the wage stage. It has an opportunity to graduate to the royalty stage. But this opportunity is in immediate danger of being frittered away. India still has miles to go. If it starts celebrating prematurely, it will never arrive.

India’s share in the world software market is a paltry two per cent. In the fiscal year 2006, India’s software-related exports stood at $ 24.2 billion. This is a gross figure. To obtain the net figure we must subtract from it the amount expended on importing the required computer hardware and branded software.

Unfortunately this latter figure is not publicly known. It could be as high as half the gross figure. My own impression is that the total Indian computer – related imports (for all sectors) exceed the corresponding exports.

A major source of foreign exchange for India is the money sent back home by Indians living or working abroad. For the fiscal year 2006 these inward remittances stood at $24.6 billion. Two thirds of this came from two sources: USA (44%) and the Gulf (24%).

The fact that a fraction of the savings of Indians employed abroad equals India’s gross software export earning brings home a point that is often ignored. Much of India’s software manpower is under-employed.

In the calendar year 2005, China exported to USA toys, games and sports equipment worth $19 billion; furniture worth $17 billion; and footwear and parts worth $12 billion. Thus China earned about $48 billion from the labours of its relatively low-skilled work force, while India employed its top brains to bring in no more than $24 billion.

Much of the foreign praise for the so-called Indian IT prowess stems not because of the cost advantage India offers but because India makes available highly skilled people for doing stupid repetitive work at a couple of hundreds of dollars a month. Many analysts have used the term cyber-coolie to describe the phenomenon.

My own preference is for the term techno-baboo or cyber-baboo (colonial-era spellings being advisedly used). Coolie is a degrading term; the coolie can retaliate. The British in South Africa called Mahatma Gandhi a coolie, and see what happened to the empire! But baboo is a soothing term. A baboo can remain a baboo for ever and feel proud of the fact.

About 200 global companies have opened their research and development centres in India. Not withstanding the composite nomenclature, these centres are for further development of original research done in the West rather than for original research itself. In any case even if the authors of the patents being filed from these centres are Indians, the patents are not owned by them but by the parent company.

If the parent companies were to set these centres up in their own countries and hire these very Indians, their salary bill will go up about eight times. The money Indians will be sending back home will far exceed the salaries they are now getting.

We should now wean our upper-end IT experts away from employment and convert them into entrepreneurs. This would require a strategy and more importantly a change in the national mindset. As a society, we are afraid of failure. We do not want to try lest we fail.

We content ourselves with letting others take the initiative and feel happy when a peripheral role assigned to us. As Kiran Majumdar is fond of pointing out, nothing succeeds like failure. People should be encouraged to try and fail so that they themselves or others can build on their failure and succeed.

India should set up an IT Entrepreneur Fund. We should encourage, or rather tempt, professionals currently employed in India or abroad to set up eventually royalty-yielding companies. For this not only capital but also small pieces of land at concessional rates should be provided.

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