From Infosys to politics

Written by Ajay Sukumaran | Updated: Apr 10 2014, 08:48am hrs
Its 7.30 am and one of the early birds at the Madurai Idly Shop, dressed in jeans and a kurta, is a man who till recently lived a process-driven work life. In these past couple of weeks, the six sigma has given way to a disruptive business model. A typical day for V Balakrishnan involves walking the streets of Bangalore, riding an open-top jeep, waiting outside technology parks and visiting slumsscenes that make his 20-odd years at Infosys look like something from a past life. Its no less hectic, however, fighting an election as a candidate of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which the former Infosys board member once described as one of the most successful start-ups by an IIT-ian ever.

Bala, as he is better known in the Indian software industry circles, is sitting down to a breakfast of two idlis and an uddina vada with coconut chutney and sambar, having put in an hour on the campaign trail speaking to voters in a park adjoining Bangalores upmarket residential locality of Indiranagar. Its his staple breakfast these days when he is usually out of the house at sun-up and not back before 9:30 pm.

I knew it is going to be hectic, but I never thought it would be so hectic, says the 48-year-old, whose small campaign party of AAP members have occupied a few tables at the restaurant. Its a far cry from the large processions of party workers and supporters that trail behind politicians from other parties, including his former colleague Nandan Nilekani. He seems to be learning the hard way.

I wont call it the hard way. I think it is the right way to do it. All these years, elections were fought on three things: money power, muscle power and caste. The AAP is decimating all these things so I think this is the right way to fight elections, says Bala. He has finished a cup of coffee and is ready to get back on the road. Its a bus ride this time, and the band sporting Gandhi caps and brooms set out.

Bangalore Central, from where Bala is contesting Lok Sabha elections, spreads across the heart of the city and is a seat with a large population of minorities. He is up against PC Mohan, BJPs sitting Member of Parliament, and Rizwan Arshad, a Congress youth wing leader. If what happened in Delhi happens here, we will win, says the former chief financial officer of Infosys. Theres a lot of underlying support for the AAP and people really want change. One good thing is that a lot of people I met in the constituency dont know who the current MP is. They have not seen his face for long and I dont know if people relate any development to the current MP today in the constituency. So, I think, we have an even field, he quips. I am new, he is also new, so it is easier to fight.

One of the insights he got from the campaign is how basic peoples needs were, Bala says, adding that these things can be solved easily by focusing on implementation. People are not able to differentiate between an MP and a corporator and an MLA. These are central elections but most people, when you meet them, complain about the roads, that garbage is strewn around and footpaths are not there. That is the role of a corporator and an MLA. It seems because they failed the masses, they are raising it with people like us who are contesting the central elections, says Bala, as he shakes hands with a passer-by who wishes him luck. See, its not about money. The corporation spends crores of rupees every year but the quality is bad, the governance is bad. They are not spending the money effectively so it is all about putting a good governance structure, bringing in transparency, involving people and making sure the implementation is perfect so that at least people see the impact that is what is missing.

By now, Bala has ridden a bus to a technology park nearby, introducing himself to the passengers and taking questions. Out on the street again, he stops for drinking water. How is he tackling the summer heat Drink more water, eat light and keep walking. When I got into politics, my family never agreed, saying it is a dirty world. Finally, I convinced them. One of the things I told them was that, if not for anything, at least I will lose 10 kg, quips Bala. Still, considering that his father was once a corporator in Vellore, is Bala a natural politician No. We discuss a lot of politics at home. But coming into politics was never on my mind, it happened over the last 3-4 months, he says, adding that he first met Arvind Kejriwal in January, a month after he quit Infosys, at the latters home in Delhi. Hes a very honest person. Talks from his heart, very clear in his principles and hes a great leader. Arvind is one guy you can criticise on his face and you can ask him all the difficult questions; hell sit and answer. I dont know how many leaders can do that in this country today.

Bala, who wrote the preface for AAPs economic policy, says the partys ideology is neither left nor right. We are for good politics, creating good ecosystems, using more private sector, creating more jobs and making sure people do business honestly in this country. I dont know whether you call it left, right or centre. It doesnt matter. We have to get good ideas from wherever it is and make sure honest businessmen can do business honestly in this country. That is the core of any economic policy, right If there is no honesty and implementation is bad, nothing is going to work. You may have the best of the people in the government and the best of economic policies, but if the implementation is bad, you are going to get stuck at some point of time. Honest governance without corruption is the starting point for everything. Thats what we want.

Bala also feels that people coming in from different backgrounds will make the party richer. Initially you attracted the first set of people. The second set of people should come from diversified backgrounds. Only then will the party become richer and the quality of decisions and policies better. So, I think, by contesting more seats you are trying to get more people into mainstream and that will be good in the long run.

So, are there any management lessons from the AAP Of course, take Infosys. What is Infosys A great idea, which created a platform for doing honest business. That attracted a set of good people and thats how the idea blossomed. Similarly, the AAP is also a great idea about clean governance which has attracted good people.