The decision by a couple of senior tech executives to attend an event in Chennai organised by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has snowballed into a major controversy, with many users on social media calling for the boycott of services and products made by their companies.
Sridhar Vembu, founder and CEO, Zoho Corp and Rama S Ramachandran, MD and head of communications, media and technology, Accenture India, will be chief guest and guest of honour at an event named Resurgent Bharath, the RSS IT Professionals said. The organisers — the RSS is the ideological fount of the ruling BJP and has a number of affiliates like the IT unit —also issued an invite to the event, listing the names of Vembu and Ramachandran.
The event is due to take place in Chennai on February 2.
No sooner did the invite begin doing the rounds on social media than Twitter users began questioning and criticising Vembu over his decision to participate in the event. One user called him a “fascist enabler”.
The criticism directed at Vembu comes at a time when the RSS and the BJP find themselves in the midst of controversy over the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed rollout of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
“I’m in a position to cancel all business with Zoho thanks to Sridhar Vembu’s participation in this event,” tweeted Sachin Tandon. Chennai-based author Krupa GE said her family will stop using Zoho’s email service for work.
Vembu was defiant, however. “I don't decide my views based on Twitter attacks. If you dislike which events I attend, please do what your conscience dictates and I will do what mine dictates,” he tweeted, confirming his participation in the event, “We earn our daily bread due to our work and we will continue to do quality work. I won't be responding to attacks.”
Zoho said it has nothing further to add beyond Vembu's tweet.
Several Twitter users also tagged Accenture CEO Julie Sweet to draw her attention to Ramachandran’s participation in the RSS event. While Accenture hasn’t responded to the controversy, a source, requesting anonymity, said the company is keeping track of developments and will respond shortly.
Though rare — corporates typically prefer to stay politically neutral — it is not unusual for corporate executives to attend events such the one by RSS. Leading businessmen and CEOs have actually attended the RSS events.
Shiv Nadar, the billionaire founder of HCL Telchnologies, for instance, recently attended the RSS’ Vijayadasami celebrations in October. There, he made his famous ‘My daughter did something you won’t like’ speech, where he openly endorsed advocating a meat-rich diet for school children, while addressing a large gathering of staunchly vegetarian RSS workers. Other high-profile names from India Inc such as Ratan Tata and Azim Premji have also attended RSS events, and visited the organisation’s premises.
Given the precedent, the Chennai unit of the RSS has expressed surprise at the criticism being directed at Vembu and Ramachandran. “We have invited many leaders in the past for our events including former president Pranab Mukherjee, and will continue to keep doing this,” said RSS Chennai Public Relations Officer B Prakash. “We printed our invites to Resurgent Bharath only after both Sridhar Vembu and Rama Ramachandran consented to attend the event as chief guest and guest of honour.”
Prakash said that those protesting the presence of the tech CEOs were “anti-national”. “These elements have made a habit of protesting everything that we do, but they won’t stop us,” he said.
Initially, Accenture hadn’t responded to the controversy, but a source, requesting anonymity, said the company was keeping track of developments and would respond shortly.
Later in the evening, Rama S Ramachandran issued a statement on Twitter, stating that he hadn't consented to attend or speak at the event in the first place. “I am not sure how this misunderstanding happened, but I have no affiliation to this group and never agreed to speak at or attend this event,” tweeted Ramachandran. An e-mail from Accenture’s corporate communications team has also endorsed Ramachandran’s tweet, as the company’s official line. The company’s communications team has also furnished an invite from the RSS that has apparently removed Ramachandran’s name as ‘Guest of Honour’.
The article has been updated to reflect the comments of Rama S Ramachandran.