To a request from media to get National Anthem sung live, Narayana Murthy declined and said, "We have foreigners on board here and we didn't wish to embarrass them while we sing the anthem." Following which the media criticized him, politicians baited him, and some people suggested that he is unpatriotic. Now, it is a topic of debate in itself.
Poor guy- Narayana Murthy is being thrown into a bigger role for India for which he is not prepared. The expectations are becoming bigger everyday. For example, there was no need or necessity to ask Abdul Kalam if Narayana Murthy should become the next President. The next day media quoted Abdul Kalam's 'fantastic' approval to Narayana Murthy's President role. It is quite amusing to see what media asks and what they want to quote. Nobody asked if Narayana Murthy would be interested in such a role. The media has unnecessarily raised Narayana Murthy beyond the contributions he made for corporate India and wanted to see more action from him. I don't think he is ready for that nor does he want to be ready for that.
Now, this remark on singing of National Anthem is definitely a faux pas. Narayana Murthy should realize that he is now bigger than what he thought he was, and such remarks from such big people, whom many people look up to, will not go easy with the people (and those jobless politicians).
Why he might have said what he said
I can understand why Naryana Murthy said what he said. If you understand the culture that is imbibed in most software-services business in India, you will realize that there is this amazing habit of bending over backwards to accommodate the customers (who happen to be foreign companies). The respect for customers is somehow mixed with respect for foreigners and soon one doesn't know why we are being obsequious to these foreign companies- is it because they are the customers or is it because they are foreigners?
In an attempt to try to portray the Indian companies as international companies (by recruiting miniscule few foreigners), these companies like to shed the image of being 'Indian'. Their focus on going global is so strong that one of the steps to become global is translated as 'losing that Indianness'.
I worked for a year with an Indian company in my career. They are 99% Indian in its employees and in locations. However, in their newly launched ad campaign, I could only see white people (and they are all blue-eyed-blondes). I went to the Brand department to ask why there are only foreign people in these ads. She said that it was so because the company is now an international company- they want to portray international people in its ads. I asked, 'How come there are no Indians in the ad? Also, how come there are no Africans, or Korean, or Chinese? And also, why only these select group of Scandinavian-Nordic-Saxon white people with blonde hair and blue eyes?' For which she smiled, and said thats what most people wanted to see! (I am not sure about that).
Singing national anthem, or wearing Indian ethnic dresses is seen as rubbing off too much Indianness onto foreign customers. And in an attempt to portray oneself as international company, there is a tendency to tone down that Indianness. Mr. Narayana Murthy, I believe, was just doing that! Unfortunately! :)