Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Imagining India - book by Nandan Nilekani

Nandan, who is self-effacing, in the typical Indian tradition, calls himself as an Accidental Enterpreneur. But I see him as one of the best example and role model of the New Age Business of India. He could have written , like many retired celebrities, his memoirs. Instead, he has chosen to write about the story of India in which he succeeded and the new India he is imagining. He has made very little reference to himself and his company in the book. He has a new approach to the growth story of india by talking about ideas.

He has categorised ideas into four kinds;
-ideas already arrived
These have already been accepted by consensus and have helped India to become what it is now,
-ideas in progress
There is consensus on these but implementation is slow and half-hearted
- ideas in battle
These still being hotly debated till the end of the world by the Argumentative Indians
- ideas to anticipate
These are needed to realise the promise and potential of India but still not in the agenda.

The ideas that have already arrived and shaped India are: demographic dividend, enterpreneurship, English language, Information Technology,urbanisation,democracy and role in globalisation.

In the past, there was a perception of horror about the immense and growing population of India. But today, the same issue of population is looked at positively as human capital and demographic dividend. India, with its young population, is going to benefit in the next four-five decades in which the developed world will be filled with more pensioners than young skilled and innovative people. What was seen earlier as a liability has now become an asset. India can leverage this demographic dividend to become a creative power and a centre for new knowledge and innovation.
The second paradigm shift is the Indian attitude to business. Earlier, the socialistic india looked at businessmen as greedy profit-seekers without social conscience. Now the enterpreneurs are recognised and admired as creators of jobs and wealth not only for themselves but for the society and the country.
The third fundamental change is the attitude to English. The newly idependent India was seeking to assert its identity through its native langauage and wanted to get rid of the colonial English. But now there is consensus that English is the key to unlock the opportuniies arising from globalisation and so even the poor people use their hard-earned savings to send their kids to private english medium schools.
Information Technology, which was feared as man-eaters in the eighties has now been accepted as an essential tool for business, jobs and development.

The ideas in progress are: school education, urban planning, infrastructure development and unified single market of India. On these issues, there is consensus on the urgent need for reforms and investment but the implementation is slow and ineffective.

Ideas in battle are in the fields of education and labour laws. On these issues the partisan and ideological debate goes on without end. Nandan says it is time we get out of the old mindset and act pragmatically. Here he quotes the example of Brazilian President Lula, who handles issues like a violin; He holds voters in his left hand and plays the government and business with his right hand. India is, however, stuck with its constituitional label of a socialistic republic and the consequent ideological trap. Election politics overrides reforms and long term policies. On education and employment, the governemnt policies and politics have got bogged down in quotas and divisions rather than creating more avenues.

Ideas to anticipate are in the areas of environment, energy, health and social security. According to Nandan, India has the advantage of starting now as a latecomer. We can study the experience of developed countries and learn from their mistakes and formulate better policies to suit our requirements.

Nandan has taken on the ambitious task of analysing the whole gamutof the issues of politics, economy and development and trying to suggest solutions to them. It is a formidable task. But Nandan admits that he is just an IIT nerd, having lived in a relatively privileged atmosphere and succeeded surfing on the wave of IT boom. To make up for his inadequate knowledge, understanding and experience,he has chosen to take the ideas of experts by interviewing sociologists, economists, politicians, civil servants and specialists in each field.

Nandan is objective, clinical and candid in his analysis and comments. But his exercise and intent are not academic or intellectual, but are practical and pragmatic. With his optimistic and positive approach, he has explored the possible and the doable, within the context of the realities and constraints of India.

Nandan is a posterboy of the success of India´s economic reforms and liberalisation.He is also the role model for future enterpreneurs of india, as a creator of wealth, jobs and opportunities for thousands of Indians. His company Infosys has set a benchmark for corporate culture and ethics. The Infosyians don’t believe in the greasy and greedy old world business practices of India. They will forego contracts rather than trying to get it through under the table means.

Nandan calls his generation as the ¨bridging generation¨connecting the old India with the emerging new one and that which straddles the divides and the ideas that separate the two.

He sees growth and prosperity for India through creation and facilitation of access to resources and opportunities. He see the problems and issues like a computer programmer and a business management expert. One cannot but agree with his analysis of the inherited and created obstacles for India´s progress. But the conclusion of Nandan is that India and the Indians have reached a stage when they don’t have to continue their ingrained habit of shrugging and stepping around potholes, without trying to repair it. He is convinced that Indians have arrived at a new stage with confidenc, competence, tools and ambience to solve problems in this life itself rather than wait for seven incarnations or letting things drift as karma.

In the democratic system of India, Nandan´s ideas need to be accepted by the political leaders who play the critical role in development. What was the reaction of a political leader to Nandan´s ideas. He simply dismissed Nandan saying ¨people like you are neither good for votes or notes ( money). This is the reality. Hold on..there is hope behind this reality. The politician will get kicked out of power if he does not align himself with the aspirations of the people who are now getting increasingly empowered through the Information and Communication revolutions brought about by Nandan and company.

I recommend this book especially for the younger generation who have a historic opportunity to realise the dreams of Nandan Nilekani and the bridging generation which includes me too.


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sam said...

Nice one !!