Ideas from an “Accidental Entrepreneur”

For some strange reasons, knowledge in science and technology is considered a handicap towards developing a social-intellect. It is a perception that businessmen do not usually make good public intellectuals and can not contribute to national debate.

Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of Infosys and its current CEO, too acknowledges this. In the very introduction of “Imagining India: Ideas for the new century”, Nilekani comments that “not being a specialist of any particular stripe, whether history, sociology, economics, or politics” actually gives me a broader viewpoint on most significant issues. At a time when most of our arguments tend to get polarized, an avid amateur, and someone who can avoid the extreme ends of the debate is what we need. Perhaps someone, who can give us an eagle-eye view of issues about which most people speak, but very few would talk.

Nilekani has attempted to understand India through the evolution of ideas. Book talks in brief about India’s recent past; i.e. the socio-politico-economic history of independent India, especially in the last two decades after the government opened the markets out of compulsions and there was rapid surge in market economy.

Nilekani is himself the product of that period. Born and brought up in ‘socialist’ India shaped by Gandhiji and Nehru’s outlook, but becoming an entrepreneur in 80s and co-founding Infosys, Nilekani is himself the living example of emerging and changing India.

The book is loosely divided into four parts. In these four parts, Nilekani traces the growth of India and elucidates it with some interesting and some stark examples and hurdles that came on the way. All through Nilekani is optimistic about the demography of the country and believes that it’s exploding population that once had become such a bane that forcible ‘sterilizations’ were conducted during the emergency.

‘We may have been short on various things at various times, but we have always had plenty of people.’ The demographic shift to India and China was looked upon as a threat in the West. However, with growth our human capital has emerged as a vibrant source of workers and consumers not just for India, but for the global economy.

Nilekani has very interestingly written about how our imperial linkages and then after independence internal tussle proved beneficial when IT and BPO boom began. Thus, where initially, English had become a mark of superiority, today everyone wants to learn the language, so much so that learning English has in itself developed into a $100 million industry in India.

Being a technocrat, however, he sees technology as the primal node on which development of India or any country hinges upon. He cites examples of how old styled Babus never actually wanted to see computer technology taking over manual works. But how computerization has ultimately not only made their work easier and more accessible, but it has also reduced corruptions from different sectors.

Indians have a strange tendency of blaming politics and politicians for everything. But he quotes V. S. Naipaul, ‘The politics of a country can only be an extension of its human relationships’. Nilekani seems optimistic though. With growth and spread of education, awareness of people will ultimately force the government to act and implement policies that are in the interests of the nation and its people. He, however, cautions that like earlier made mistakes, populist measures can appear to be in the interest of the masses, but in the long run it only harms the nation.

The book is based on Nilekani’s experiences and is a form of his vision for the country. Not a great book on India. But considering that it has been written by an entrepreneur and not a sociologist, it deserves appreciations. The book seems very repetitive though. Notes by the ‘accidental entrepreneur’ and conclusion in itself sums up what the author wants to say. All the chapters in between seems to beat about the same bush from different angles. The interest created at the beginning fades slowly. But the book is filled with hilarious anecdotes those were most refreshing to read. Perhaps, if properly edited, the book could have been better. But Nilekani appears to be so widely read and he actually have had long discussions with ‘friends, historians, sociologists, statisticians, economists, entrepreneurs, politicians, civil servants, policy makers’ etc. before actually writing this book and that is commendable for an ‘accidental entrepreneur’.


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