Blueprint for a better India
Amar Chandel

Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century
by Nandan Nilekani.
Penguin/Allen Lane.
Pages 531. Rs 699.

IT has generally been the prerogative of the politician to decide and tell us what is in the best interest of India. Off and on this task is also taken up by journalists, scholars and bureaucrats. The responsibility is shouldered less often by entrepreneurs particularly a self-styled "accidental entrepreneur" like Nandan Nilikani, co-chairman of Infosys Technologies. His penning the 531-page Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century is a healthy indicator in itself that the pioneers of his ilk are willing to stick their necks out and be counted.

What he says carries substance and weight. After all, his Infosys is one shining scratch-to-sky success story and he brings the same angst while analysing India of the past, present and future.

Since he is neither a historian nor a researcher in the strict sense of the word, he writes from the perspective of a common man who made it big despite an unfavourable climate. What he writes reads like the jottings of a typical Indian, who has experienced the trials and tribulations and triumphs of the independent India trying to come to terms with itself.

Nilekani divides the book into four parts. In the first, he discusses subjects where India has made considerable progress already. He reminisces about how the once-despised entrepreneur is now back on a befitting pedestal, how English has risen like the phoenix in the country, and how technology, which was at one time avoided like a man-eater, is now acknowledged as an enabler. The country is now well-meshed with globalisation. The monolithic state is transforming itself into a polycentric entity and new ideas are now at the core of our growth.

In the second part, Nilekani focuses on ideas that leave much to be desired. The country is trying hard to make sure that its schools are better than teaching shops and everybody has access to quality education. Its cities are expanding haphazardly; infrastructure is way below the satisfactory level and there are too many walls in the way of a single market.

In the third and most powerful section of the book, he discusses the segments where we have fared miserably. Agitations at the drop of a hat have impeded progress; caste system has put paid to the aspirations of a large number of people. The quota system has been hijacked by vested interests. The Indian workforce is restive; universities are "institutions of sand". Reforms have been stalled time and again.

But optimism beckons even during this dark night. The fourth and the last segment of the book throws up innovative new ideas on issues like health, energy and the environment. He sees electronification as the panacea. Single citizen ID can do wonders. Subsidies have to make way to direct benefits. There is need for creating national information utilities. We have to make sure that the pendulum does not swing from one extreme of hunger to the other of obesity and heart diseases. We have to take better care of our elders, our environment and energy needs. In short, we have to become an "awakened country".

To set the process in motion, he throws up many tantalising possibilities, and also makes valuable observations on what went awry in the past.