On The NDTV Dialogues this week, Nandan Nilekani, the man who is the architect of Aadhaar, former co-founder of Infosys and someone with big ideas for India, opens up in his first expansive interview since he stepped down from his government role and lost an election. Mr Nilekani speaks on his meeting with PM Modi regarding Aadhaar, if he'll ever join government again and his advice to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Here's the transcript of the interview:
NDTV: Hello and welcome to NDTV Dialogues, a conversation of ideas and who better to have on this show than the man with big ideas for India, Nandan Nilekani. Thank you so much for coming. It has been an interesting week because we have seen India on the forefront of deciding an idea that has divided the online world, net neutrality. A really crucial report, which came out by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Mr Ram Sharma, and I don't know if many people know that Mr Ram Sharma actually worked with you on Aadhaar.
Nandan Nilekani: That's right, I was employee number one of Aadhaar, and he was employee number two. He was suggested to me by a friend, that there is this great guy in Jharkhand, who in his spare time does programming as a hobby. I said what kind of officer does programming as a hobby. But I met him and I told him that look. I am giving up my career and he said if you can do it I can do it. So he joined me and we worked, in fact you can think of him as the co-architect of Aadhaar with me. So he is an amazing guy. But he has surpassed himself on this net neutrality.
NDTV: He has taken on Mark Zuckerberg, which is not an easy thing for a bureaucrat to do in such a well thought out order. What was your take on it?
Nandan Nilekani: No I think if you read the order, it is outstanding. The language, the clarity, the purpose, the arguments put so persuasively, the legal backing. It is a template of a very good government order and I think he is not someone you can trifle with and I think he believes in principles. He is a man of highest integrity. He is decisive, bold and fearless. So he is absolutely the right guy in the right place.
NDTV: It is interesting because you had also recently written an editorial on the same issue of Free Basics, because as a viewer, many have asked that what was wrong with the idea of Free Basics and as a concept it is about inclusion, it is about bringing in those who don't have access to the Internet. In a sense are we being too rigid by completely blocking Facebook's Free Basics?
Nandan Nilekani: No, not at all.
NDTV: You had another option, you thought of another way.
Nandan Nilekani: I think we are all for inclusion. I mean when we built Aadhaar, it was for inclusion. So I don't think it's not that we don't understand inclusion. But inclusion should be done in a market neutral way. It should be done in a way that doesn't favour a company or doesn't create a walled anchor and that was the whole issue with this model; that of course we should make internet available to all and there are many ways to do that. We had suggested having a DBT, where you transfer certain amount of money to the bank account, directly give them data time as DBT, LPG you give cash. Here you can give data. That is one way to do it. The other way is Wi-Fi hotspots. There are many, many ways of doing it but it should be done in a market neutral way. It has to be done as a collective. It has to be done in a way that gives everybody opportunities and this is the article that my co-author, Viral Shah, and I wrote sometime back. And I think it did help because it put it in a simple language as to what are the risks of doing this.
NDTV: You brought up Aadhaar and of course that switch, as you talk about Mr Sharma as somebody within the government service, as a co-architect of it, but in a sense when you look back at Aadhaar when it began and where it is today, it is interesting how the current government has taken on the legacy of the previous government and added to it, really pushed it. Does it make you proud today?
Nandan Nilekani: No, I think, we are very satisfied. 6 years back it was just an idea, it was a cabinet note and PM Manmohan Singh was kind enough to invite me to implement this and today it is close to a billion people. It is, 970 million people in India have an Aadhaar card. So I think to take it from an idea to a billion people in 6 years in a government system is a non-trivial problem.
NDTV: Did you believe it would happen?
Nandan Nilekani: I could believe it. See if you try to take on such crazy goals, you have to believe it will happen. Otherwise you cannot do it.
NDTV: It didn't worry you? You actually said 600 million and then you went back to the campaign for election. But did it worry you when you heard the PM. Many BJP spokespersons said that Aadhaar would be dead if BJP came to power. It will be reviewed. Apparently the meeting you had with PM Modi helped changed his mind.
Nandan Nilekani: So I think PM Modi understands technology better than any politician I have met. As Chief Minister of Gujarat he had implemented Aadhaar. So he knew the value. The meeting certainly helped in the last five per cent of conviction or whatever.
NDTV: No awkwardness when you met him?
Nandan Nilekani: Except my Hindi. And then I think it was... but I think this government has really supported it. When I stepped down it was 600 million people, now it is 970 million people. LPG had started at that time but the previous government had some misgivings about it just before the elections so they had stopped it for some time, so he resumed that. They are applying it (Aadhaar) to PDS, to kerosene, attendance of government servant. So now I think it is becoming a ubiquitous platform and we are only seeing the beginning of a revolution and in the next 5-10 years, the number of applications that will come will be things that we can't even visualize today.
NDTV: We have a lot of questions for you. Angela from St Stephen's college has a question. Go ahead Angela.
Angela: You were one of the architects of Aadhaar and you knew the in and abouts of the government. So what were the greatest challenges you had to face and how did you overcome them?
Nandan Nilekani: Yes, well I think there are two types of challenges. I think one was a very complex technology challenge because nobody had built a system of this scale and size for a billion people and many people told us that it cannot be done. The second was the political challenges. It was managing, navigating the system. So we designed it in a way that the administrative office was in Delhi, where Ram Sewak and I sat and then there was the technology team was in Bangalore. If you even visited the two offices, it looked quite different, from the background. The Bangalore one looked like a start-up kind of thing and the Delhi one was a government office. And I think we managed. So I think those challenges were, the big lesson I learnt was in the private sector, you are answerable to only a few people. If you are the CEO of a company, like I was, you are answerable to the shareholders, your management team, maybe the Board and so on. But here everyone has a view. Politicians, bureaucrats, government, cabinet, media, activists, judiciary, everyone has a view. So to navigate among them to reach the goal is the most complex task.
NDTV: You had formidable opponents as well. At one time Mr Chidambaram wasn't convinced at all about Aadhaar and you have written in your book Rebooting India how you almost had a bharat yatra, on how you would always go to the person's office, you wouldn't ask them to come and meet you because it is also about managing egos. What did you find most difficult coming from the private sector?
Nandan Nilekani: Actually that was easy for me because if you have been in business and you have been a salesman in business, one of the roles I did, I have no ego in visiting a client anywhere in the world if that led to a business order. So I know I had 14 months to sort of put things in order. While they were building the system, Ram Sewak and the tech-team, I went to every state, met all the leaders, Chief Ministers, Chief Secretaries, gave presentation on what's coming in and took their buy-in and even when they came to Delhi, I made it a point to not call them to my office but to go to their Bhavan. For example, one person I really liked was Sushil Modi. At that time he was the Deputy CM of Bihar, outstanding person, finance minister and all that, so I went to meet him in the office. I went to meet Mr Raman in his Bhavan. It is subtle thing, that look I will come to your office, I won't call you to mine. Those are small things but it helps in building consensus.
NDTV: Did you have other kinds of misgivings? We have talked about Mr Sharma but the fact that you are working with the government system, you are working with them and I think Shah mentions it in his book, that he was amazed when the Director-General of India Post walked in and everyone actually stands up. So how did you adjust to that culture, because you said that you went into it thinking that you are setting up a start-up in the government?
Nandan Nilekani: So we tried to create a start-up-ish culture as much as possible. But you know start-ups, everyone is on first name basis, T-shirts, shorts and those kind of things and government is a structured thing, there are seven layers, there is some guy that brings coffee. So these are two different worlds. But we sort of figured a way. Being a start-up, we were able to create our own culture. At least in the early days, it was very collegial and entrepreneurial, but you know with time, there is something called law of bureaucratic gravity, all start-ups eventually you know become the same. But you get 4-5 years to pull off something. And that's how we tackled it. So it's different world.
NDTV: You came in because PM Singh asked you, what if PM Modi asks you to do something in the government again, another start-up of a similar scale? Because you have identified the areas where this is required. Would you work with the government again?
Nandan Nilekani: No I think, been there, done that. You know in the sense that I came here for five years, did Aadhaar and subsidy system on that, financial inclusion, the GST and electronic tolling. So there is enough of work done. Now I think it is time for me to go back to private life and encourage start-ups and disruption.
NDTV: Start-up is definitely the buzzword, but you have made it a point in your book that we need to have a start-up culture across government in the key challenges that face India today. You have also suggested, controversially perhaps some would see it as, that best minds across fields don't look at this in-government and out of government sort-of thing. You have done this with Aadhaar but you think this can be pulled off across the country? Can this actually happen?
Nandan Nilekani: It has to because the problems are too complex, to large-scale to be fixed by inwardly looking, inwardly breeding system. You have to bring in the best talent in the system to deal with these kinds of things. I think the single most important thing they should do is bring in a thousand laterals across all walks of life; because freshness of ideas, which come with people from different experience, have a huge impact on problem solving. In a limited way we did that with Aadhaar, fantastic people from the government, like Ram Sewak Sharma, best people from private sector. So we were able to sort of bring them all together. And because our goal was so large, the cultural problem sort of reduced. The goal was so big that there was no point squabbling about these little things.
NDTV: So when you hear words like Start-up India, Digital India, Make In India, all buzzwords very much of this government now, what has to be done to translate these ideas? You have said the same thing, to aim big, aim for so many accounts in Jan Dhan Yojana. How do you get this to implementation or reality on the ground?
Nandan Nilekani: That is the real challenge. The problem is execution. 90% of it is the daily grind of getting into the process, every technology; every code, making sure it works properly, making it right. So I think, all the announcements are great, but finally it has to translate into work on ground and that's how we believed it. We had set up the goal that we will do 600 million Aadhaars in 5 years; we did it in four and a half years. Our budget, which was expected to be 12-15 thousand crore, was actually 8 thousand crore. So it is a rare instance where the project happened ahead of time and in less than budget.
NDTV: I think in the young audience, all would have an Aadhaar card, do you all have an Aadhaar card?
NDTV: So that really, that it is...
Nandan Nilekani: Does anyone not have a card? Nobody says anything, unbelievable.
NDTV: I think that is unbelievable, in a completely random order. So I think happily if you even go to rural India, you will find across sections a large number of them will have an Aadhaar card.
Nandan Nilekani: It is 970 million.
NDTV: Yes, I think that's really a huge success. But let me just go across to Tushar from Hindu college who has a question. Go ahead Tushar.
Tushar: Hello Sir, my question is that how significant has been the TRAI rating that is in favour of net neutrality for the prospects of trade in India, given that e-commerce websites have a part, from an economic point of view, what is your take on it?
Nandan Nilekani: TRAI regulation on net neutrality is the best thing that could have happened to the Internet. Because it is keeping the Internet free for everyone to compete on a level basis. It is not biasing the internet for one company. And I think this will only lead to acceleration of innovation. So I think net neutrality is of great strategic importance. And we should all applaud the TRAI for doing such a bold thing. It is for the future of India and we should respect and applaud that.
NDTV: Now that you are out of active politics in the sense that it doesn't sadden you when you see role reversal, in a sense where BJP blocked the GST for consecutive sessions and Congress is now doing the same thing, does that disappoint you?
Nandan Nilekani: No, I think we have to find a way to have some common programme of ideas that are bipartisan. Aadhaar is one example, which de facto has become bipartisan, though you know...
NDTV: It was partisan at one point.
Nandan Nilekani: Now, we know, it's both sides, in some sense GST, you know, stuff where there is broad agreement which will carve out and make that happen, while you can still continue and argue on other things. You need to create that common minimum programme kind of thing.
NDTV: I hope that would work how it did in Aadhaar. Let me go across, Deepshika Ranjan has a question, yes go ahead.
Deepshika: Hello Sir, my question is that India is an agrarian country and these days a lot of farmers are committing suicide. Campaigns like Make in India campaign are good for the economy, but it's in no way improving the conditions of the farmers. Shouldn't fulfilling the necessities of the farmers be our priority, what do you think about it?
Nandan Nilekani: Sure, absolutely, we have to look at fixing agricultural distress and making market access and improving the quality of the, but there are a lot of structural issues also. More than half of the people are in farming and their contribution to the GDP is very low because their productivity is not high. So we have to have a way to get these people off the farms and working in industries or either service jobs, so Make in India is just part of that. I think though the bigger thing could be construction. Construction I think employs a million of people. The other challenge we have is the lack of education, unlike China when they liberalized, everybody was liberated and in India they are not. And if you are not educated then a lot of jobs are not possible. A lot of structural issues that need to be done, certainly Make in India is one of them, but there are many, many other things that you need to do.
NDTV: Looking at the farmers' issues and farmer suicides even Karnataka, you have a Bangalore which is the centre of excellence in start-up, you'll have just kilometres out of Bangalore you'll have farmers killing themselves. You have it in Maharashtra and you have it across India. Why is it that there seems to be this these 2 different or 10 different India stories as it were, and is it true that some of the criticism you'll find and the focus goes too much in what cooperate wants or we talk too much about GDP, we don't talk enough about farmer suicide numbers?
Nandan Nilekani: No, no. Of course that could be a valid criticism but I think again it's about how do we include them into the fabric of economy and society? For example if you look at what is happening with fertilisers, pesticides and all that, there is this whole issue of water storage, excess water extraction, so that's causing farms in Punjab; you know there is huge amount of fluoride and all that, so you know it's a very knotty problem that you need to untangle, and sometimes you know the media may not focus on these kinds of things. Though the other thing, which I find is that people want solutions that can be solved in 20 minutes in a talk show, you know, not this talk show, other talk shows and it's not going to work. These are hard problems. When we talk about the Aadhaar thing, it, we needed a hard 5 year grind out of the public eye. In some sense people have to take on these long term challenges and relentlessly focus on results and I think that's the way to do it, and that's also the theme of our book that we need start-ups that do these things.
NDTV: And you have also talked in the book about how sometimes our politics is stuck in the past. You will see that we talk about talk shows and daily headlines, and the daily headlines are often dominated by issues related to caste; issues which involve religion; which involve who said what against whom; whereas our politics should be much more of fulfilling aspirations. In a sense you have been inside politics, you have fought a campaign, why do you think that fulfilling aspirations does not perhaps lead a political campaign or we go back to the same old divide in a campaign?
Nandan Nilekani: The link is too abstract; the link between aspirations and what has to be done today is so abstract I guess, that it is very difficult to convert that into a political language. But that way, actually going back to net neutrality, it's a great example. For the first time it is the issue of the future and it was fought bitterly, in the sense that there was a lot of; so it is a rare case when the issue of the future was argued with the same passion as the issue of the past. That's a good sign actually.
NDTV: But it was done by an apolitical person eventually, in a sense, though of course Ravi Shankar Prasad and Rahul Gandhi bought out the issue of net neutrality. But when you were campaigning did you find it true at all? You campaigned in Bangalore South, you lived there, I mean you were somebody who delivered a track record, but perhaps the issues of caste and this thing dominated. Why do you think voters vote on those lines?
Nandan Nilekani: Because I don't think they look at us as problem solvers. And at the Parliament I don't think it proceeds that way. It boils down to all these caste, religion and so I think that's the way politics is, it is not a meritocracy.
NDTV: Do you think you would ever fight an election again?
Nandan Nilekani: No, no, I don't think so.
Nandan Nilekani: Because I didn't have any competitive advantage in that game.
NDTV: It's a good business reason for not fighting it again.
Nandan Nilekani: I know how to run a company; I know how to fund start-ups; I know how to do projects in government, but I certainly don't know how to do politics. I don't have the skill set for doing it.
NDTV: Why is politics such a dirty word, why is politics seen as a dirty word?
Nandan Nilekani: It's not a dirty word, it's just that I don't have a skill-set to perform well in that space.
NDTV: Do you still see yourself as a Congressman, but...
Nandan Nilekani: I am inactive, but yes.
NDTV: What are the big differences that you see between the UPA 2 government and the Narendra Modi government? How would you compare the two?
Nandan Nilekani: Cow, I am just joking, but yes, no, I think obviously this government is far more centralised and so on. But as is very obvious just changing from Party A to Party B will solve not anything. You have to fundamentally re-imagine and re-architect the way you do things. It's not that business is usual and you change somebody and some miracle happens, it does not work like that. You have to get into the details, you have to re-imagine things, you have to empower people; you have to give them a long mandate. So if you don't do that and sort of flit from event to event, it's not going to fix anything.
NDTV: You said jokingly just now, cow, you said you are still a Congressman. The Congress has attacked the PM on various issues, whether it's being a suit boot sarkar, you are wearing a suit, in the sense, but that's one attack. And in Karnataka, which is a Congress government, we just had that incident with the Tanzanian student. This rise of say hate crimes or violent crimes, it may not even be a rise, it maybe something happening in India for years, but how can it co-exist with an increasingly young population, increasingly progressive start-up culture, in the sense socially as well?
Nandan Nilekani: I think finally it boils down to creating enough opportunities for people. I think we have a billion plus people. We have larger number of young people, that aspirations have been unleashed. You know the work we do, in each step we try to understand what kids want, kids from very humble backgrounds want to be doctors, astronauts and scientists. Now if your system is not being able to deliver that, if you are not able to create jobs for them, then any reason to turn on to somebody is a good reason. I think fundamentally, unless we create a massive upscaling of opportunity for everyone, you are going to have more of these things. To me it is more symptomatic to the lack of aspirations being met, so I would like to focus my energy on how to broaden the scope for everyone to rise.
NDTV: You don't think it is like Shashi Tharoor says, you can't have Make in India and Hate in India, do you think..
Nandan Nilekani: That's true I think, absolutely. You know a country that is inclusive, unless it treats everybody the same in the eyes of the law, how can it function?
NDTV: Do you think this government is doing enough on that?
Nandan Nilekani: I think they should be more forthcoming in some of the statements. I think there is some amount of dichotomy in which they talk which creates confusion for people.
NDTV: But in Karnataka as well, I mean we have seen increasingly violent incidents; stories of a boy and girl, if they sit together, of different religions, there are problems, there are almost these vigilante mobs that are created and an anti-outsider element as well.
Nandan Nilekani: I think it's more a societal thing. There is rapid change happening, everybody has a mobile phone, people are meeting people of different castes, so it's a huge churn on the old order, so there is bound to be a reaction from the empire.
NDTV: So when you talk of politics, the future, perhaps addressing these issues right up front, do you think that that is something that is needed from all parties?
Nandan Nilekani: Yes it is, but I mean it should win votes too and the party should also win elections, right.
NDTV: Now that I wanted to ask, because of course one of the things and now you are leading a relatively less busy lifestyle now, perhaps than the Aadhaar days, but you are now looking at start-ups and investing at an interesting range from aerospace to publishing. Do you see these or this whole entrepreneur spirit or start-ups as a solution to what many say is India's biggest problem, that are providing jobs for young people? Or do you think that perhaps we need a much more holistic approach, because there is always a worry looking at start-ups, but what about the impact on Bharat?
Nandan Nilekani: Sure I think obviously start-ups will have to not individually create jobs but let's take a start up like Ola. An Ola is run by 2 young guys Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati, both 29 or something, I don't know and let's say they have half a million drivers. In some sense they have created half a million self-employed entrepreneurs running the taxis which they are managing, so they are not creating jobs in the classical sense of a factory and getting jobs, but in effect they are creating this eco system. Now they have auto rickshaws, so I think in this new world the way you create jobs is not simply by employing them, but enabling platforms which will enable other people to have jobs or entrepreneurs. So I think over time this thing will create a huge number of, like I have an investment in a company called Power2SME, which is building up a platform for matching small companies with suppliers you know and that will have a big impact. Another company in which I am involved in is called Fortigo, which is matching truckers to brokers. So you know all these things can lead to dramatic consequences in organising unorganised markets, so that's the philosophy that I have.
NDTV: We have got a Budget coming up and of course, sometimes there seems to be a disconnect between Davos in which India is described as the bright spot in the world etc., but when we come back home the focus is much more on figures that are coming out, controversies over new GDP figures, issues about the manufacturing output etc. Where do you see India starring currently?
Nandan Nilekani: Well I think at some point the India story is exceptional. It has the highest growth rate in the world. We are a consuming country so low commodity on prices is good for us. This government has been smart in using commodity prices in raising taxes on petrol so they have managed to earn revenue and a lot of good things like that. But I think this is the time to be bold on reforms you know, because by next year you know, we would already be heading for elections and this or that. So I think this is the time for them to be bold, take advantage of the situation and really do some bold stuff.
NDTV: What's the big ticket reform you would like to see?
Nandan Nilekani: Well I think it's certainly on the subsidy fund, I think they need to continue what they have done. You know they have implemented LPG very successfully and I think you know, they have saved two billion dollars just by using LPG, Aadhaar and all that. They had to do the same for kerosene, but the PDS, they have to do for the whole country because they have to make sure everybody gets food. Under the Food Security Act using Aadhaar will dramatically make it more efficient and effective. And then the other one is fertilisers; fertiliser absorbs, it has a subsidy of 70-80 thousand crore. All these things need to be put on track you know, that's just one example. Then I think on GST, while the law is one thing, but actually one other thing that I had led in the previous government, was setting up a company for GST or a GST network. That company can do a lot more for GST. So law will come and go, but you can actually use that GST in place. So there are a lot of these things, which are you know operational, so they are not headline stuff, they'd have a big impact.
NDTV: That perhaps is one of the failings, we will say there is an election around the corner there is no time to govern, because they're always in campaign mode as there is election in few months. But let's just go crossed to Muskaan from SRCC, she got a question as well, Muskaan go ahead.
Muskaan: My question is talking about technology, how can we create a balance between using technology in industry for development and managing the unemployed work force in our country, so there are two sides?
NDTV: Do you mean technology will actually lose jobs or did you mean technology cuts down the...
Muskaan: It will create employment, but the percentage, which should be employed, when we use technology we become comparatively less when we use labour intensive techniques in industry.
Nandan Nilekani: But you see that is not the only source of jobs. You are right, in a company if I replace employees with robots it will reduce employment. But what technology does it reduces transaction cost for doing business. I will give the example of Ola or Fortigo. Let's say there are 10000 truck drivers who are more organized, they are getting more business on their trucks, they optimize better using technology, then they are going to make more money. So I think, it's not employing technology in companies I am talking about. I am talking about the overall impact on the economy by making things more efficient and reducing cost per economic activity, which will lead to lot of jobs.
NDTV: You talked to us about change in India. Ideas in India you do talk about in your book, but when you look at some of the key ideas, when education, because of course there are philanthropists something doing now, how crucial do you think that really, that really is to changing the India of the future?
Nandan Nilekani: That absolutely critical EkStep came out of my wife Rohini, works in this for last two decades and after I lost elections I was fairly unemployed and then my son in- law, he is a graduate from Harvard Business School, we went to meet him on his convocation and we dropped him at this place called edX, which is a nook for higher education done by Harvard and MIT. And after the meeting they have said why can't you do the same for kids if you could do for adults? So I said what the size of the problem, she said 200 million kids, I said okay, after Aadhaar this is good thing to do. I need some big problem to solve, small problem don't excite me. So we started this thing we call EkStep and the idea was that there is fundamental literacy. And numeracy issues; look at them. Pratham ASER reports for 10 years it shows no improvement, kids can't add two numbers, kids can't read. It is not I am solving education. I am solving literacy and numeracy through caring adults. So we are coming out with a series, smart phones based, which should be free so that people can use them, parents can use them, tuition teachers can use them, schools can use them. So that finally raises the quality of basic education, basic literacy and numeracy.
NDTV: Philanthropy is something that excites you and Rohini nowadays because, rather of course the total contribution, over 2,000 crore. We need more philanthropists in India.
Nandan Nilekani: I think philanthropy is a huge thing. Philanthropy is ultimate risk capital, in other words capital that government can't spend, on solving the problems or market can't spend because there is no return, philanthropy can spend. Let's say we spend X crore on this, it's fine if it doesn't work, it doesn't work, there is no CAG, CBI, CGC, what did I do with the money? So I think that kind of freedom to spend money gives you a chance to try, sort of some long shot things, that's what I like about philanthropy.
NDTV: Do you think more Indian rich business need to look at philanthropy? See America, Mark Zuckerberg is 99%, why is it then Indian rich and then suddenly Raghuram Rajan is also after Indian rich at the moment. Why is it that they seem selfish?
Nandan Nilekani: Raghu, he is after those who are defaulting the banks and living the lavish life. So...
NDTV: But he thinks the rich and well-connected have it in India?
Nandan Nilekani: I think definitely there is huge case for increasing the philanthropy in India. In the US it's a well-established custom. 120 years back Andrew Carnegie and Rockefeller and all these guys gave their fortune and that culture is built into their system, partly because they believe that children should not be with too much money, so rather they use it for social purposes. There is a lot happening in philanthropy and people like Azim Premji has been leading the way. He is doing extraordinarily, Azim Premji Foundation and so on. Since Rohini is very active in this space we can see a discernible shift where more and more rich Indians are doing more work, still not at the US level of philanthropy, but Kiran Mazumdar did a lot, all the Infosys founders do a lot, lots of people are now doing great stuff.
NDTV: You mention that one day you woke up and realised you are unemployed. I mean I was watching you. John Stuart once called Madonna of Bangalore, or did you see India in the sense that was perhaps the first failure in your life, because you were just going by your brilliant career from IIT to Patni, Infosys? Whatever, how did it change you as a person?
Nandan Nilekani: It was definitely quite mortifying and as you say I am used to success. And you know when I went from Infosys to government people said you are going to fail. So you know that I didn't fail. So you start thinking you are invincible or something and so when I lost the election and some sense it was very a public failure, it's a public repudiation of who you are, so it took me a while to recover from that thing. But I think once I sort of rationalised it and once I got busy in all these things you know, I am fine.
NDTV: It's interesting how things change as you look back, maybe with a perspective in a year or two, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh often says that history will judge me differently do you thinks perhaps there is now a perspective to look back that UPA? Did, do you think you could have worked differently? And what do you think about the problem of corruption in Indian system and we talk about start-ups adding solutions to India's problems. How much corruption is holding us back? Do you think corruption got brought on UPA 2 or do you think there was perhaps something else?
Nandan Nilekani: I think corruption or the perception corruption whatever, all that definitely contributed to the issue. But I think if you look at it, some of the great things, like RTI, I think RTI is an extraordinary tool for finding out what's happening. Aadhaar or MNREGA or Food Security Act, they are all, the very fact they have been continued shows that they are absolutely Bible across governments, so I think there are a lot of great things to do but there are some other stuff to catch up.
NDTV: There is one more question from Shekhar from SRCC, from Hindu, go ahead.
Shekhar: My question is that in India we are seeing that focus of all the people is only on tech start-up, not on those start-ups that are technology based, like affordable education, affordable hospitality or housing, so why is this so? Because if somebody is starting to think, which is not related to technology, which is wonderful so I think many options are available.
Nandan Nilekani: Tech start-ups have got lots of attention because that's where the maximum activity and easy to do is tech start up. I just need to get my credit card, get space on Amazon and start writing code. It's easy to do that, but when I look across the board I see lots of very interesting start-ups. One of the start-ups I am investing in is out of IT Bombay. He is doing work in ignition to be, it's an electronic hardware company. I am seeing a lot of healthcare start-ups, they are looking at very, very diagnostic stuff at one-tenth, one hundredth value of today's equipment. I am seeing start-ups in agriculture. So on the ground start up spaces, quite, I agree there is bias for technology, but I am finding all sectors have start-ups.
NDTV: Well does it remind you when you meet all the young start-up kids and these days you meet a lot of them, does it remind you of when you started in Infosys, one room etc., the excitement, the enthusiasm... has it come full circle?
Nandan Nilekani: I guess you are trying to relive your youth or something when you do this stuff. I am very impressed with the youngsters today. They are bold, they have big ideas, big ambitions. One thing we could never do was lose money; we always had to make profits. These guys drop 50 million in month and they are not bothered about it. So I think they have ability to spend, to get business, it's just very impressive. So I think there are a lot of exciting things to watch. I am very happy because the five years I was working in Delhi, I was not paying attention you know, Aadhaar, this sarkari stuff, so I found by two great coincidences, one was about 15 years back I funded the first incubator at IIT Bombay and today IIT Bombay & Powai has become a huge start-up. The second thing I found that my house was coincidentally in the epicentre for start-ups in Bangalore, in Koramangala, so at least 100 start-ups were in walking distance of mu house. I was like a Rip Van Winkle waking up to see 100 start-ups. I think it's great to see that and frankly I prefer of disruption of technology than disrupting Parliament. So I am very happy using what I know, which is technology to bring in change in a big way.
NDTV: So a quick rapid fire round. Favourite politician, Indian and global and why.
Nandan Nilekani: Fav politician Obama. I think he is another person whom history will judge him very well. He is cool, only guy I know who came to a comedy show deal with John Stuart and whatever. He has delivered some interesting thing in his second term. I mean climate change, TPP and on the whole healthcare and after this election he will look even better.
NDTV: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or Prime Minister Modi?
Nandan Nilekani: Two different people, I shouldn't get into this one.
NDTV: Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi?
Nandan Nilekani: Again two different people.
NDTV: What advice would you give to Narendra Modi if you met him tomorrow again?
Nandan Nilekani: I think it's about execution and empowering the right people, that's how it's going to get done.
NDTV: What advice would you give Rahul Gandhi?
Nandan Nilekani: He is very committed and idealistic and I think he has to combine both short term and long term.
NDTV: What do you love about India the most?
Nandan Nilekani: I think the extraordinary diversity, energy of this place, the youth, the fact that change is happening at this pace. There is no other place to live right now in the world.
NDTV: One thing you want to change.
Nandan Nilekani: I would like to make sure that everyone India can meet their aspirations.
NDTV: Hindi movie or Hollywood...
Nandan Nilekani: Neither.
NDTV: How does Nandan Nilekani spend his free hour?
Nandan Nilekani: Doing nothing... seriously.
NDTV: What keeps Nandan Nilekani busy nowadays?
Nandan Nilekani: I have a couple of principles. One is be less busy and more effective because I think people confuse busy-ness with effectiveness, so I would do fewer things but I would do them systematically so that they have a long term impact. Second is be more generous with money than your time because money is something you don't need too much of but time is a more precious thing you have. So I follow these simple principles and I have a good life.
NDTV: Nandan Nilekani thank you very much for joining us on NDTV Dialogues.
Nandan Nilekani: Thank you.