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Imagining India & Nandan Nilekani

April 23, 2009

I left work very early Wednesday evening to rush to LSE to what I knew would be an over-subscribed event – Nandan Nilekani’s talk on his book and ideas for India for the new century. Packed in with Indian students, non-Indian faculty and myriad other folks in between, I was impressed by Nandan’s idealistic visions for India, his sense of humour, Lord Desai’s policing of the crowd and most importantly, the intelligent and pertinent questions raised by the audience.

There’s no denying that India has the potential to reap the ‘demographic dividend’ that Nandan repeatedly referred to, during his talk. But for that to happen, there has to be concerted effort on the part of aam aadmi, the intellectuals/entrepreneurs/politically aspiring youth sparring words in the LSE auditorium and many other campuses, the private sector of India, the international community and the government of India. It is not a coincidence that I place the Indian government last in that list – like Nandan, I believe that much of India’s progress, if it happens, will be irrespective of and inspite of party politics and the melee of democractically dissenting voices. That, I think, is the true strength of democracy – the ability to organically grow ideas into real benefits, with or without the support of the state, because the individual is empowered to make his choice without the need for social engineering. And yet, like many realists in the audience, we must remember that there’s a deadline to meet – as this youthful generation of India ages, the goals have to be met and the dreams fulfilled, so that a generational disaster is averted, in terms of cost of healthcare and pension.

I might be guilty, here, of saccharine doses of idealism myself, but I look forward to piecing together the puzzle of the India to come and of pondering upon the ideas that Nandan puts forward in his book – those implemented, those to executed, those in contest and those which need to be examined further.

It thrills me to see my nation evolve in my lifetime – the entry of Shashi Tharoor, Malika Sarabhai, Meera Sanyal, among others, indicates a new face of politics in India and personalities like Nandan Nilekani will, I hope, be only a precursor of a generation of personalities from the Indian private sector to make a difference to India.

Meanwhile, there were some unexpected but welcome outcomes of the event which included me running into the quirky self-styled social activist I had met a few weeks ago at the LSE Literary Weekend and meeting a grad student at LSE who plans to set up an entrepreneurial venture in the area of electronic waste management in south India – someone I expect to meet again in the near future.

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