New Delhi, Sept. 18: Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the UIDAI and one of the global faces of India’s IT revolution, is likely to join the Congress and contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha election.
The Telegraph has learnt reliably that the seat he may have in mind is South Bangalore, which the BJP’s Ananth Kumar has won five successive times. The UIDAI chief belongs to Karnataka and spent his fabled IT years in Bangalore.
Nilekani could not be contacted tonight; nobody from Congress circles was prepared to either affirm or deny the possibility. But such decisions are usually firmed up at the highest levels and it is unlikely functionaries, even senior ones, would supersede a formal announcement.
A co-founder of Infosys with N.R. Narayana Murthy, Nilekani was drafted by the Manmohan Singh government to devise and pilot the Aadhaar, or unique identity, enterprise in 2009.
Should Nilekani plunge into active politics, he will have to quit his current cabinet-rank job. Nilekani, sources suggest, has been sensing for a while that he has achieved what he come to do at the UIDAI — established the programme’s architecture and intents, peopled its desks, set up an elaborate PPP network and speeded it along.
The Aadhaar effort, which is partly also meant as delivery ramp for a slew of the UPA’s welfare bouquet including direct cash benefits and food security, has coursed along a fast-track since it was launched three years ago; more than 40 crore Indians have been given out unique identity numbers which they can use, among other things, to access state-given benefits.
Nilekani has stayed punctiliously within the lines defined for technocrats, but his given venture feeds hugely into the pro-poor political agenda the Congress is articulating in the run-up to the 2014 general election. The stilts to the vigorous foregrounding of the Congress’ aam aadmi cry during the final lap to polls come from Aadhaar.
Personally, though, Nilekani could embody quite another political appeal, a tug to India’s burgeoning and aspirational middle class being wooed away from the UPA on the back of a recurrent campaign of policy paralysis, economic stagnation and financial downturn.
The Congress could well see in Nilekani — author of the bestselling road-ahead treatise Imagining India — a man who could espouse a contrary worldview of the “New India” to the BJP’s Narendra Modi.
It has remained no secret in Delhi’s power circles that Nilekani has, over time, become a valued sounding board for Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is beginning to assume a larger profile as elections near.
Sources say Nilekani is frequently consulted on critical issues, especially those related to welfare measures and imagining the contours of the Congress election campaign.
Nilekani himself has been quietly mulling a political career and is known to have consulted close friends on the pros and cons of entering public life through elections.
He has been keen, among other things, to counter the poll rhetoric of Modi, picked last week as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate. The Congress would hope that come Nilekani, a modern India hero and not a dyed-in-the-wool politician, would get purchase.