Need for overhaul of Indian politics

Need for overhaul of Indian politics

Interview of the Week: Need For Overhaul of Indian Politics. Technocrat-turned-politician 58-year-old Nandan Nilekani—IITian, ex-CEO of Infosys,...

Technocrat-turned-politician 58-year-old Nandan Nilekani—IITian, ex-CEO of Infosys, best-selling author, world-flattener and chairman of the UIDAI—could soon add another title to his glittering CV. He is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Bangalore South as a Congress candidate. He was part of a task force on civic matters in Banglore in 1999 and headed UIDAI that brought him into public domain. Nilekani is the richest candidate in the country with assets worth Rs 7,710 crore (Rs 77 billion). Working overtime to project himself as a common man and trying to be one among the people of Bangalore South, Nandan Nilenkali in a telephonic conversation with Lata Jain

From a successful entrepreneur to politics. What brings you to play this new role?

Politics is the biggest lever of change in India. I am in politics to make the lives of millions of Indians better. I think there is a role for politicians with problem-solving backgrounds. When I look at my life, I have been able to do transformational things. Infosys was one journey; Aadhaar was another. Bangalore Agenda Task Force where I worked with politicians and bureaucrats on civic issues between 1999 and 2004, was also one. I think Indian politics is ready to accept problem-solving politicians, people who get into the integrity of things to resolve those. It is a good model of politics and that is the reason I joined politics.

Why did you choose the Congress, especially at a time when it is in a beleaguered stage?

Congress is my ideological home, I come from a Nehruvian family. Congress stands for its policies of secular and liberal values, according to which every Indian, no matter what caste, creed, religion and part of India he/she is from, is treated as an Indian. That’s why the Congress is important to me. And, it is the Congress that gave me the opportunity to lead the Aadhaar project. So, it is my natural choice.

BJP's Ananth Kumar is a five-time MP who has his ears to the ground in the mostly middle and lower middle class dominated constituency. Do you stand a chance against him?

I will win the election. I think there is a big desire for change. They are looking for someone who is hard working, honest, effective and committed, one who will keep his promises. They do not remember any of the promises the BJP incumbent has kept so far. I have worked extensively on civic issues and projects of Banglore and people of Banglore recognise me for that. People want performers in politics today; people in Bangalore want a change.

What are the various strategies you are using to campaign?

I'm approaching it as an engineering project -- it may look a more corporate and technocratic way.We have a programme called "Ideas for Bengaluru" and we have a huge number of ideas which will benefit the citizens of this city.I am using the social media to the hilt and my high tech campaign is also partly app-powered. I am going door-to-door and canvassing, street corner meetings are helpful and greeting morning walkers in parks are also part of my strategy to reach out to voters. My wife Rohini is doing a herculean job. She is my best campaign supporter.

You are an entrepreneur and supposedly a good sales person. What is the learning from the corporate world you will apply in this election campaigning?

Infosys was all about leading teams, setting a goal and vision, doing things professionally and on time, and achieving things and being focused and articulate. Aadhaar was a new experience. Aadhaar helped me understand how large, complex government projects that cut across many governments and institutions can be executed by consensus-building. These are rich experiences and I shall apply them in my election campaign.

Modi said the Aadhaar programme was a bundle of lies in whose name the treasury was looted. Your comment?

Aadhaar has given millions of India's ever-rising number of migrants a means of proving their identity. It has created a searchable database of non-duplicable identities defined by biometric characteristics. By linking this database with the National Payments Corporation of India's gateway, banks now have, for the first time, a nationwide infrastructure for electronic banking.

The government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have worked together to make Aadhaar sufficient know-your-customer data for opening a bank account. So, to debunk Aadhaar is to close the door on real financial inclusion. Narendra Modi should be the first to hail this potential, if he is sincere about his commitment to India's development. He has not understood and read the potential and benefits of Aadhaar.

How do you rate Aadhaar programme?

I will give it 7.5 in India. 6.5 million identity in 2.5 years. Cash transfers, KYC, bank account transfers. After whatsapp, this has the largest number of people to get enrolled or use this service.

During the launch of one of your books, Imagining India -- Indians for the New Century, you commented that you are unelectable and today you are contesting?

India needs change. The experiences then are different from today. Battling on Aadhaar projects has given me new insights to the loopholes in the system and the need for an overhaul in Indian politics. Today I believe I am electable.

What is your opinion about AAP and on Arvind Kejriwal?

Arvind's contribution to political change is great. I appreciate AAP and his team for political innovations but governance is not his cup of tea. The problem is AAP does not have any "ideology", and the country needs leaders who have the determination to bring reform to Indian conditions.

What is your mantra to success?

One should harness the talent of people around you. Analyse the worst of the situations and try to get out of your comfort zone and keep putting your best foot forward. "Remember that nothing can be done alone. It is because seven of us got together that we were able to start Infosys. We wouldn't have been able to do it alone," Even Aadhaar success was because of perseverance and constant follow-up. I never got frustrated and gave up on Aadhaar in spite of all the opposition.

Party workers in Congress are not happy about your being given a MP ticket of a prestigious constituency. Is there a bigger picture to it?

Party workers in the Congress respect me for the perseverance behind Aadhaar projects. Aadhaar has surely got UPA in the good books of the voter. I am not dependant on party funding as I am using my own funds; this is another reason the party does not have to struggle with me. Moreover I have worked in all fields -- as an entrepreneur, as part of the government. Due to my rich experience in the IT field I can easily get connected to the younger generation. That is why a ticket for Banglore South has been given to me.

Some Congress party workers believe it is MP today, and you stand chances of a prime ministerial candidate?

This is my first experience in politics (laughing). Hardly three weeks to go and my opponents are five-time winners. Let me be elected as an MP with the goodwill and blessings of all. The rest will follow.

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