FE Editorial : Infy to India

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Jun 27 2009, 02:15am hrs
Nandan Nilekani yesterday resigned as Infosys co-chairman, to join the governments IT-driven programme for providing a multi-purpose national identity card (MNIC) to all residents by 2011. As chairman of the new Unique Identification Authority of India, Nilekani will have the rank of cabinet minister. This is a very constructive development in the debate on the role of technocrats in government, which took off with full intensity at the time of the current cabinets formation, when finance ministry headship was still in the air and when Nilekanis name had come up as a possible Planning Commission appointment. So, here is Nilekani invested with the authority to run the required coordination between varied ministries like Home, Labour, Rural Development and Information Technology. This is an excellent precedent. The barriers between private sector talent and government needs to come down.

India and its diaspora represent a very high level of human, intellectual capital. Many of this community, having made their mark in chosen areas of specialisation, may be willing to contribute to public life by becoming part of core governance structures. Actively courting such contributions has served us well in the past. Sam Pitroda is an obvious exemplar, someone who returned to India to develop a modern digital switching system for Indias phone-starved rural areas in the eighties. Providing all Indian citizens with a permanent ID card carrying a unique number, a photograph and biometric data is no shorter an order. As the man who is the co-founder of Indias second-largest software exporting firm and who has been popularised by Thomas Freidman for a unique ability not simply to programme software but also to explain how that programme fits into emerging computing trends, how those trends will transform the computing business and how that transformation will affect global politics and economics, Nilekani is uniquely qualified to deliver on a difficult task. Of course the deliverables under discussion are momentous. The MNIC promises to not only address national security concerns, it will also lend a helping hand in welfare delivery, improve tax collections, facilitate greater financial inclusion and aid voter registration. If a smart card with a sharp microchip is to deliver all this, an IT whiz was probably the best choice as the man in charge.