India’s Richest Muslim Thrives in Largely Hindu Nation

Azim Premji is a name well known to a lot of Indians.

After all, Premji is the shrewd entrepreneur who inherited a $2 million Vanaspati (hydrogenated cooking oil) company in Mumbai and turned it into a $3 billion IT, BPO and R&D Services organization called Wipro that is today listed on the New York Stock Exchange and serves customers around the world.

Along the way, Premji and his company Wipro also dealt a severe blow to the American middle class by snatching their well paying jobs and shipping them off to low-wage India.

But outside of India, the name Premji rings a bell – if at all – with very few people.

But with The Wall street Journal (subscription required) on Tuesday paying a front-page tribute to this Indian tycoon in a lengthy story of how this Muslim entrepreneur has thrived in predominantly Hindu India, Premji’s profile and name recognition is sure to rise exponentially.

In his introduction, WSJ reporter Yaroslav Trofimov writes:

The world’s richest Muslim entrepreneur defies conventional wisdom about Islamic tycoons: He doesn’t hail from the Persian Gulf, he didn’t make his money in petroleum, and he definitely doesn’t wear his faith on his sleeve.

One of the richest Indians, Premji is an aberration in the Indian Muslim community, which is largely backward socially and economically. A point that the WSJ piece recognizes:

A role model like Mr. Premji might seem to be what India’s Muslims need. Though the country’s economy is growing at 9% a year, the vast majority of India’s estimated 150 million Muslims — the largest Islamic population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan — remain socially marginalized, badly educated and mired in deep poverty. By and large, they’re left out of the social transformation that is propelling millions of their Hindu compatriots into prosperity, as barriers of caste disappear and India’s new corporate giants provide opportunities that never existed before.

For his part, Premji claims the whole Hindu-Muslim issue in India is exaggerated.

Premji’s minions say in the WSJ piece that Wipro is a meritocracy and has just a sprinkling of Muslim employees because Muslims tend to study in Urdu and seldom pursue engineering courses.

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