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Don’t plan to lose, says Nilekani

Bangalore, Feb. 21: The worst that might happen if Nandan Nilekani contests the general election is he might lose, but the Infosys co-founder is thinking like a seasoned winner.

“In any case, I do not plan to lose,” he joked with reporters today when asked if he was taking a “big risk” by jumping into the poll fray. “Risk-taking is a part of life.”

Confirming he would quit as chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India by March-end, the Aadhaar boss said: “I will be there for a few more weeks. I will be stepping down by end of March.”

The reason he had chosen “the political path (was because) a lot of changes are required in the system”, he said, adding that he proposed to contest from Bangalore South “subject to getting the ticket”.

Although talks with the Congress have been under way for over three months, Nilekani has yet to formally join the party. But he has been meeting people in Bangalore and taking lessons to polish his Kannada public-speaking skills. A Saraswat Brahmin, his mother tongue is Konkani but, having been a Bangalorean all his life, he speaks Kannada too.

As of now, the buzz is that Nilekani’s is the sole name recommended by Sonia Gandhi for Bangalore South. It was around two months ago that he emerged the most likely candidate to take on the BJP’s Ananth Kumar, the sitting MP from the constituency.

Since then, the local media has been spoiling for a mega fight. But Nilekani, 58, has quietly been meeting party bosses in Delhi and Bangalore as well as doing the rounds of the constituency.

“There are issues like how to improve water supply. Education is a big challenge for children and jobs also,” Nilekani said today, outlining his priorities.

Not easily accessible to the media, Nilekani’s visits to the homes of local leaders have been kept private. But, according to party sources, he showed a clear sense of purpose from the very start.

“He met (state president) G. Parameshwar several times before anyone knew his political plans,” said a Congress leader privy to the meetings Nilekani had with Parameshwar and chief minister P.C. Siddaramaiah.

“With a recommendation from Madam (Sonia), no one would dare to oppose him although some sections are not so pleased about air-dropping a non-member to such a prestigious seat,” the leader said.

The first to be snubbed was state food and civil supplies minister Dinesh Gundu Rao, who pitched for local realtor and party financier U.B. Venkatesh for the Bangalore South ticket. After that, none has dared to question the high command’s choice.

“Not being a party member would not be an issue as he is a man of great achievements. So he is a sure value-addition to our party,” said the source.

What sealed the ticket for Nilekani was Rahul Gandhi’s stress on clean and winnable candidates, he added.

One of the first local leaders to root for Nilekani was M.V. Venugopal, the president of the Congress OBC wing. He said the techie-turned-politician was certain to wrest Bangalore South from Ananth Kumar, who has held the seat for five consecutive terms.

“We will get it back this time, with Nilekani already projected to beat the BJP,” said Venugopal.

State minister Krishna Byre Gowda, who lost to Kumar in 2009 by over 37,000 votes, added: “We are going to beat the BJP this time as the odds are in our favour.”