Nandan Nilekani: The 6 things that changed India

Nandan Nilekani, the co-chairman of Infosys Technologies and Thomas L. Friedman‘s muse for The World is Flat, is working on his own book titled Imagining India; his attempt, as he puts it, to address a gap in understanding India.

Delivering the global leader lecture at Johns Hopkins University’s school of advanced international studies last week, Nilekani spoke of the six things that changed in the mindset of india, “which is really responsible for the dynamism, the vitality, the energy you see today in India,” reports Aziz Haniffa in India Abroad.

1) Earlier, population was looked at as a burden and a lot of things that happened in the 1960s and ’70s—like family planning and sterilisation and the Emergency and so forth—were related to the belief that population was getting out of control and that it was actually a problem to have a large population. Today, we think of it as human capital. And, this has become even more critical because India is going to be the only young country in an ageing world and that really makes a huge difference.

2) Entrepreneurs are no longer viewed with suspicion but as icons of economic growth. Since 1991, there has been a huge expansion of enterprise, there is a far bigger role for the private sector and for industry. India today has the largest pool of entrepreneurial talent outside the United States. Indian entrepreneurs are not afraid of liberalisation any more. They are very confident and globally competitive and they are not only investing abroad, they are buying companies abroad.

3) English is no longer viewed as an imperial language that has to be jettisoned but as a language of aspiration that has to be really cultivated. All the political angst about English has disappeared largely because of the growth in the economy, the growth of outsourcing, the growth of jobs. More and more people, whether they are in villages or small towns, are realising that if they want to participate in the global economy and bring more income to their lives, they have to learn English. And the political system has accepted this because more and more states which had stopped teaching English are now going back to teaching English from class one.

4) The notion of democracy has undergone a major transformation from the time of india’s Independence. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was really a top-down idea. It was an idea of the leaders who had a certain vision of the kind of country they had to create, and it was given or gifted to all the people who may not have necessarily understood the value and import of what was happening. Today, it has gone on to become a bottom-up democracy where everybody understands their democratic rights. You see people taking charge and doing things without waiting for the state to do the job.

5) Technology has helped India leap-frog several decades from a very antiquated system to a very modern system. What people don’t realise is it has played as much a role in India’s internal development as it has in terms of the $50 billion in IT exports. The entire national elections of 2004 across were done digitally using electronic voting machines—there was no paper. Today, thanks to technology, India has the most modern stock markets in the world. The mobile phone has become accessible to everybody. It is touching every individual and we are seeing more and more applications, causing a quantum leap in productivity, fuelling economic growth.

6) India has adopted a progressive view of globalisation. Fundamentally the confidence that India has gained has made our worldview on globalisation far more positive. Our companies have become globally competitive and are willing to go out. More and more people are beginning to become far more comfortable with globalisation and they are realising the benefits of an open economy, of having their workers and their people all over the world, and of Indian companies exporting capital abroad.

Photograph: courtesy Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

Also read: Ramachandra Guha: What has kept India united

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Dear Nandan: quit Infosys, start a political party