President condoles the death of Shri Dewang Mehta
Following is the text of a condolence message from the President of India, Shri K.R. Narayanan, on the demise of Shri Dewang Mehta, President of NASSCOM at Sydney in the early hours of today: “A prominent and very promising career has been cut short in the prime of youth, with the tragic death of Shri Dewang Mehta. Shri Mehta was one of the bright stars in the firmament of India’s IT revolution. As the President of NASSCOM, Shri Mehta has played a vital role in projecting and advocating India’s achievements in the field of Information Technology and the enormous possibilities that throws open for the country and its people. In November 2000, Shri Mehta had accompanied me on a State visit to Singapore where he had successfully interfaced with that country’s IT Sector on behalf of our country. Then, as well as earlier and later, I have had many occasions to interact with him closely and have always been impressed by his ideas, dedication and earnestness. A charming and affable personality, Shri Mehta endeared himself to all who came into contact with him and his untimely death is an irreparable loss to the country’s nascent IT sector. I mourn the death of Shri Dewang Mehta and convey my condolences to his large circle of friends and associates.”
He was the man an astonishingly large number of people loved to mock. They mimicked his lisp, gossiped about his hair, carped that his Website www.dewangmehta.com was pretentious, sniggered at his media appearances, scoffed at his tall stories-but boy, did this nobody from Gujarat cock a snook at them by becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy.
He picked himself up from the bootstraps-no godfather, no father, no mother, no siblings, in fact his biggest regret in life was that he had no family left in this world at all-and singly and solely, by sheer dint and perseverance rose to be bigger, better and bolder than all his detractors put together. From a wannabe, eventually, he became the one they wanted to be with. Dewang: you won.
Despite becoming one of India’s most recognized faces-I bet next only to the latest Bollywood heart-throb-within the country as well as abroad and shrugging off the slings and arrows of disbelievers, Dewang was a deeply sensitive person, constantly seeking reassurance that his personal dignity was intact. I can never forget that night twelve years ago, when Dewang was still a journalist-and Nasscom was not even a twinkle in his eyes.
He was assistant editor to my lowly correspondent status and we were working together on a cover story on the Indian IT industry. That night, a sudden scrap erupted between Dewang and another senior colleague-in itself a rarity, because I have never, since heard Dewang raise his voice.
The latter passed a wholly insulting comment in the heat of the moment. Instead of replying in kind, Dewang walked away, but in the privacy of my cabin, sobbed like a child at the hurt that had been inflicted on him. The next day he resigned and swore his journalism days were over.
Some months later he invited me to his new office. It was a dingy, small poky little half-room, which Dewang had tried to cheer up with a mug filled with pens, a giraffe cocktail shaker with a soft koala bear clinging to it, and neatly sharpened pencils. ”I have a vision,” I remember him saying: ”We have set up this association called Nasscom for the software industry and we are going to make India a software superpower. The future for India lies in software.” I yawned and made a mental note to file a story on ”Software lobby splinters away from the Manufacturers Association of Information Technology (MAIT).”
The rest, as we know, is history.
Ironically, the more Dewang rose in the public eye, the more private he became about his personal life. There was no question of loneliness-he once told me that the reason why he wrotes so many columns was because he wanted to ensure he never had a free moment to feel bored or brood over. His ”family” was a faithful retainer who would not only ensure that at all times there was a bag packed with his crisp white shirts and favorite red tie-but would also accompany him for the occasional Hindi movie fix.
But most of all, Dewang loved all things beautiful-and of course, the beautiful life. He knew I never grudged him his success so he would often lower the barriers of ”cool” and chuckle delightedly when he would be caught enjoying la dolce vita: a mobile call that would reveal he was jet-setting in Japan or Sweden; a column faxed on Waldorf Astoria stationary; an anecdote on what he whispered to Bill Gates before introducing him to Laloo Prasad Yadav.
If a lot of people, especially in the early years, felt he talked big-in his Youth Congress days in college for example, he claimed to rub shoulders with Sanjay Gandhi-in the last ten years Dewang outperformed his wildest claims. He did put Indian software on the world map, he did drive the industry from strength to strength, he single-handedly marketed Indian software within the country and abroad, he did make Nasscom the single most-powerful voice for the IT industry, he did hobnob with the best and brightest–from software czars to heads of state to brilliant techies, he did trot around the globe, live in the best hotels, attend the most happening dos, and have a pulse on the global IT gossip.
In that sense, the short life of this torchbearer was not snuffed out too soon-he did more in one brief lifetime, than most people achieve in seven births. Perhaps, the only unfinished item on his agenda was to revisit his first love, politics, to pander to his final love, information technology.
Over a pizza in January this year, when I asked him if he was now ready to leave Nasscom and pitch to become the next IT minister, he didn’t laugh away the suggestion as usual. Instead, he admitted, he now wanted to be Prime Minister, as only then could he drive IT policy in such a way that India became a superpower. He was so serious, that I bit back my disbelief: with Dewang you could never tell how far his evangelism/ambition could take him.
One thing I’m sure of: wherever he is, he has no regrets and he will read this obit with quiet pride. Here’s why I know. Within hours of the Gujarat quake, Dewang was on a flight to rush assistance to his native land. At a village near Anjar, he told me, he came across a 10-year-old injured boy huddled in the rubble. The boy suddenly reached out to grab Dewang and said: ”Aren’t you Dewang Mehta?” Dewang was taken aback. The child sobbed: ”I’ve seen you many times on TV and used to tell my parents that I want to be like you when I grow up. But they are dead now.” Dewang hugged the boy and brought him back to Delhi and later told me, that he will never forget those words. Dewang: you won. How many of us, after all is dead and gone, can claim to be role-models?
It was my privilege to have had an extraordinary relationship with Dewang. NASSCOM brought us together, and gave us the foundation for a growing friendship that ended too soon. Like all friends, we had our fair share of liking, respect and disagreement.
I am one of the few who have seen Dewang rise from relative obscurity to a stature others twice his age with many more resources would find difficult to achieve. I was close enough to see both – his tremendous abilities, and his human frailties and faults. However, one thing I know for certain. There is a need to understand how and why he gained the success he did. I am sharing my observations. If this inspires young Indians to follow in his footsteps, I will feel I have done justice to his memory.
He is a shining example of beating the system with attitude. He refused to allow the system to cow him down or make him cynical. Instead, he explored every possible democratic process to find his way around bottlenecks.
Dewang, NASSCOM and Indian Software Industry shared a relationship rather like one between an accomplished actor and a challenging script. They grew in a symbiotic cycle, complementing each other’s accomplishments.
Dewang promoted the concept of India as a software superpower, building on the fact when software exports crossed the $ 1 billion mark.
He generated a national aspiration to multiply that many times over. He creatively positioned the industry by stating that software and software services export was to India what oil was to the Middle East.
He tirelessly championed the allied concept of smart out-sourcing, which created a whole new industry segment. It blends on-site effort with offshore development to create a unique value proposition superior to any alternative system. The benefits accrue to both contracting parties and suppliers. It was not Dewang’s idea, but he marketed it in a way only he could. It is an outstanding example of how he generated win-win situations, which have become the hallmark of the software services business.
Dewang’s emphasis on bandwidth was not only to benefit the Indian software sector. Availability of bandwidth percolates the benefits of IT to everyone – including small & medium entrepreneurs, professionals, and the masses.
This is one of the ways Dewang broadened NASSCOM’s agenda, and gave it a quantum jump in its natural growth rate. He brought the perception shift towards the primacy of the PC and the emergence of the Internet as an important opportunity. In a single stroke, he roped in issues relevant to ISPs, Internet technology, telecom infrastructure and e-commerce.
It was in the evening of 12.4.2001. I was in the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and my Secretary Sri Sarma rang up. He sounded sad and gave me the unbelievable news that Dewang Mehta was no more-a victim of a heart attack in Sydney, Australia.
I knew Dewang Mehta for more that 11 years. As soon as I took over as Secretary, Department of Electronics in June 1990, one of the first things I did was to get in touch with the industry associations. Nasscom was then a young, vibrant body and the vibrancy was reflected in Dewang Mehta–so full of cheer and energy. He had the brightness of technical knowledge and at the same time, had an innate sense for timing, fashion and an enormous capacity to charm people. In these days, when at the political level the importance of information technology has been realized, it is difficult to visualize the tremendous role he played in promoting the cause of Indian software to make it what it is today. In fact, Dewang Mehta had become Mr. Indian Software. Every other sector of the industry used to pray that what it needed to solve problems was a Dewang Mehta!
Dewang had come to symbolize the vigorous, imaginative, entrepreneurial, pushy and persuasive representative and spokesman, which every industry needs these days. Today, the role of an industry champion is not only to get national policy concessions but also influence international opinion. Dewang Mehta was superb in this area.
I was fortunate to be involved in the evolutionary process of the Information Technology sector, particularly the software industry in India since 1990. I think I was doubly fortunate to have to come to know Dewang Mehta who was the catalyst and champion of the software segment. He used to say in many of the meetings which we addressed together, that I was the Lord Rama of the Indian software industry and he was my Hanuman. My standard response to this remark was that the great Rama could not cross the ocean to go to Lanka. It was Hanuman, who chanting the name of Rama, leapt across the ocean. Hanuman had gone far beyond the capacity of Rama.
Dewang Mehta was the Hanuman of the Indian software industry. Hanuman’s key strength–being Pawan putra (the son of the wind God)–was speed. Information technology is connected with speed and Dewang Mehta matched that speed whenever the industry needed it.
Dewang Mehta brought a tremendous style and panache to the software industry. At one time it used to be said that beauty and IT go together. His associations with the National Institute of Fashion Technology probably proved this point. Nasscom’s Annual Meetings were always graced by a vibrant fashion show! Of course Dewang Mehta was the supreme impresario as well as the master of ceremonies. We used to wonder how he could rattle off the names of the charming fashion models without bating an eyelid. He was the most eligible bachelor in the country when death snatched him so cruelly away from us.
The Greeks have a saying that those whom the Gods love die young. All of us in the software industry and Indians in general, who are proud that at last there is one sector where we are globally recognized, loved Dewang. But perhaps the Gods loved him more.
Dewang Mehta 1964 – 2001
No one will ever write “let us now praise famous lobbyists” and mean it, but in the case of Dewang Mehta such a sentiment might be forgiven. Mr. Mehta, who ran India’s National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) was no mere corporate shill. His death in April was front-page news in India–and deservedly so.
Mr. Mehta drove the Indian software business and played no small role in turning it into the $6.4 billion force it is today. His relentless cheerleading, strong intellect, and political savvy helped push India’s politicians to surprising actions, like spurring the tax-happy Indian government to reduce taxes on software. His admonishments also prodded India into building software technology centers around the country and offering numerous incentives to software companies. Mr. Mehta was India’s real Minister of Information Technology, from no less an authority than Pramod Mahajan, who actually holds the post.
India will miss Mr. Mehta for many reasons, not the least of which is that the Indian software business is at a crossroads. Despite the country’s size, there are too few companies like Infosys Technologies (Nasdaq: INFY) and far too many software sweatshops doing contract programming. Though contract programming helped put India on the digital map, Mr. Mehta, a master motivator, had a bigger vision. The question now is, Who will step forward to take it to the next level?
It isn’t clear that any one person is up to the task–the workaholic Mr. Mehta’s obsession with Nasscom will be difficult to replicate, especially since it certainly helped cause his untimely demise. There is no lack of Indian entrepreneurs flourishing in the United States, and perhaps one or several of them might take up the reins.
In the meantime, other developing nations could do much worse than model their own technology efforts after what Mr. Mehta fostered in India.
Dewang’s death last week in Australia reminds me of an old Billy Joel song about “only the good die young”. Good though he was, he was still too young to move on. He had called me only a few days earlier fretting about whether he needs to come to San Jose to attend the “Vision Maharashtra Conference”. He mentioned he so many things to do. So typical of Dewang.
Dewang will always be remembered for being the locomotive that powered the India’s IT industry. He was the visible face of an emerging force, the Indian IT industry. He was not only a marketing genius, but also a great leader who made sure that the industry image was not built on false foundations. Under his leadership, NASSCOM very early on devised a code of ethics about honest dealings with customers. He always emphasized quality first, even though India’s main advantage was low cost. Today, Indian IT industry is mostly admired for its very high quality and dependable suppliers.
Dewang represented a new breed of Indian who is competent, articulate, competitive, self-less, modern and supremely self-confident. This Indian has arrived on the world scene in large numbers and changing centuries old perceptions about India. Dewang’s main contribution in my opinion is the way he engaged political leaders and beurocrats on behalf of the industry; the way he educated the public about the importance of the industry for the nation.
He showed how positive lobbying can strengthen the democratic process by building broad consensus. I don’t remember any attacks on him from any quarter, making the point that he was seen as a positive force by one and all.
It is tragic that his life has been cut short. I was looking forward to the next inning in his life, which I was sure was going to be in the politics. He showed a great flair for it. It would have served India well if that had come to pass.
Meanwhile, all I can do is tip my hat to a great friend and wonder what might have been.
It matters not how long we live, but how – Philip James Bailey
Appropriate words for Dewang Mehta, from Philip James Bailey. Those who knew him well are aware of the life he would lead. Working 50 hours a day, sleeping at 4 am, and be up and about before anyone around him, or fixing up a crucial meeting at his office way past midnight. And, to top it all, travelling 20 days a month, or more.
Without undermining the work of our software superpowers, clearly if there is one person the country should thank for putting it on pecking order in software, it’s Dewang Mehta. The industry always had potential, our vast nation had the brainpower, but it needed a messiah who would sell it to the world. And that, I have no doubt in my mind, was Dewang.
In fact, in a country like ours, there was an equal measure of selling to do to the corridors of power, which Dewang successfully managed.
I still remember a day 10 years ago at the then bustling Sea Rock Sheraton where I was interviewing Veer Sagar (then CEO of DCM Data) and there was someone familiar who was sitting at the table next to us. I asked Veer who he was, and didn’t look twice at the man. He had just joined Nasscom, but then who really cared about Nasscom, the software industry or a Dewang Mehta then.
In the decade since, he single-handedly made Nasscom into one of the most powerful trade bodies in the country. It is not without reason that Dewang became known as among the best lobbyists in the country. The man almost always got what he wanted, and other trades were left wondering why they couldn’t manage all the lollies.
The most important contribution of Dewang’s was that he got the industry together and made sure that they approach the West in one voice. The business got a catalyst who rallied around them, and because he had no personal stake in software, he worked selflessly for everyone.
He had facts and figures on his fingertips, and the finesse with which he presented all of them even had the most hard-nosed politicians eating out of his hands.
The annual convention he organised for Nasscom became a runaway success and there is actually a need to turn back delegates who come at the last minute. It was after looking at a small demo of the internet that I gave him six years ago that Dewang instantly decided to set up a ‘Cybercity’ at Nasscom 1995. He intuitively appreciated the true potential of the internet and has since been championing the cause of the web community.
His public relations was par excellence – he could be at ease with chief ministers from different parties and industry leaders from India and the rest of the world.
Over the years, he had also turned into a very charismatic speaker. His anecdotes and very easy style of speaking could hold even the most disinterested audience for over an hour.
For me, it’s a personal loss. A loss of a friend, a man with whom I could share my passion for new technologies and business trends. The Bombay Computer Club, which Dewang, Harish Mehta, Raj Saraf and I founded, has been a resounding success since its seven years of existence with his cooperation. I have also been associated with him with the Internet Users’ Club of India where he was vice-chairman and with The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) Gujarat chapter which he headed.
But more than me, the one person who would have felt the loss the most is Onward Novell chairman Harish Mehta. Most people don’t know that there was not a single decision that Dewang took without consulting him. Harish brought him to Nasscom and was his mentor throughout. Apart from the industry as a whole, it will be Harish who will sense his absence the most. In many ways, he had grown to be Dewang’s real family.
Despite all the technology practitioners around him, Dewang was an extremely religious person. He was a devotee of the Shirdi Sai Baba, and would find happiness in prayer.
Words from Tennyson come to mind as I leave for the cremation just after writing this:
God’s finger touched him, and he slept.
Dewang Mehta, RIP. May the software industry prosper as you had envisioned it to.
What do you say about someone who was 38, who loved life, who loved his work with a passion and who would have gone to the ends of the earth to do something he believed in. What do you say when unexpectedly and shockingly, without even a goodbye, he disappears into the ether?
I never believed I would have to write a piece like this, where I would feature Dewang Mehta in a column that was his to pen and where he spoke about people he admired. To remember Dewang is to think of so many things. At 38 he had achieved a larger than life image of a key driver of the Indian software and IT industries. He wasn’t just the president of Nasscom, he was Nasscom. In fact, he scarcely had a life outside the association and most things he did were inextricably linked in some way or another, to his first love, the office. This was his domain, his fiefdom, where surrounded by mementos from across the globe, his music, television and colleagues he thought the world of, he would work through the day and often late into the night.
I often used to marvel at the almost single dimensional manner in which he lived his life. Personal considerations of health and home were placed on the back burner, because the software industry needed him round the clock.
I recall once when I told him to slow down, or face burn out, he remarked that the time to do things was now.
“I want to do build India into a great nation,” he said, Normally, I would have raised a cynical eyebrow and sniggered silently in answer to such politically correct rhetoric. But I guess it was something about the way he said it, the sincerity with which it came across, and the fact that I have known him over 11 years, that I fell quiet.
I will always remember him to be sunny soul, someone ready with a joke and a hearty laugh. Nothing really deterred him and if it did, he’d bounce back with an enthusiasm that was almost infectious. As far as journalists were concerned, they were all his friends. He life was open to them 24 hours a day, and most of us, I’m sure, had access to his mobile.
It’s sad then that a man who had a full life, who rubbed shoulders and back slapped with the rich and famous and who was considered “family” by chief ministers and key politicians, should have died all alone in a hotel room in faraway Sydney.
He leaves behind a legacy of a strong software industry, and shoes that even the best of men will find hard to fill. He also leaves behind his grieving friends and colleagues, his man friday, Babu and of course, his dog, Naughty Mehta.
Needless to say, Dewang, you will be sorely missed by us all.
I am sorry to hear about the untimely death of Dewang who was a personal friend and a great friend of the Indian Business Council (IBC), Dubai. The Indian IT industry has lost a “true champion” and outstanding Indian, who we were all very proud of. Dewang will always be remembered and his is an irreparable loss for the entire nation
We are ICICI were shocked and grieved to hear about the sudden demise of Dewang Mehta. Dewang single-handedly made Nasscom into one of the most powerful bodies in the country. The IT industry of India owes a great deal to him. He will be missed by all those associated with him.
I am writing to convey the deep grief and sadness of all of us at CII at the sudden and tragic passing away of a great personality-Dewang.
The loss for Nasscom is immeasurable, as indeed, it is for the entire country. This youthful, charismatic leader had established a place in our hearts and minds. We shall miss him deeply.
India has lost its most reputed IT evangelist. It is difficult to put Mr. Mehta’s achievements in a few lines. He led Nasscom very effectively and brought the concerns of the industry before the regulators, policy makers and Governments. He also projected the Indian image very effectively at the international level.
We would also like to gratefully acknowledge Mr. Mehta’s contribution to Karnataka. He was associated with the Bangalore IT.com event last year as well as this year. He was on the governing body of the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore. Karnataka was the only partner state along with Nasscom that represented India at CeBit 2001 held at Hannover, Germany in March this year.
In Dewang Mehta, the country has lost a dynamic and young visionary in the field of software. He was undoubtedly instrumental in building India’s reputation as a software giant.
The passing away of Mr. Dewang Mehta is an irreparable loss for the software industry of India. We feel this loss is not just India’s alone but that of the entire IT sector in the Asia Pac region.
On behalf of CAN (Computer Association of Nepal), I would like to express our deep condolences for this sad event.
Shri Dewang Mehta made his mark in a short span to time in the field of IT. It is a great misfortune that he has been snatched away prematurely by cruel, untimely death.
We have been following the excellent work that Mr. Dewang Mehta was carrying out in the field of information technology and realize that it is not just Nasscom, but India that has lost an ambassador par excellence.
OWe hope Nasscom will carry on the great ground work that has been laid down by Mr. Mehta. We, the Fraunhofer ISST and its private arm INNOVA GmbH will continue to support Nasscom in its European endeavors.
Since we greatly admired Mr. Mehta as the supreme spokesman of the Indian IT industry, we invited him to the JBIC (Japan Bank for International Cooperation) Symposium that I coordinated last November. Mr. Mehta willingly accepted our invitation, but unfortunately sudden illness prevented him from visiting Japan at that time. We had been looking forward to meeting up with him and are saddened that our desire will never be gratified.