The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pause to think for comrade, computer

Calcutta, Dec. 7: A descendant of Gandhi reminded the India that is the world about the India that is Bharat. A representative of information technology that has made India global requested his communist friend in Bengal to rein in his comrades in Delhi.

Infocom 2005, India’s largest information, communication and technology exposition, opened here today on the lively note of debates on serious issues that brought to the table sharp contrasts.

Inaugurating the show, jointly organised by Nasscom and Businessworld, an ABP group publication, Bengal governor and the Mahatma’s grandson, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, said: “Lead me from darkness to light.” He told the elite gathering of technology leaders, business strategists and policy makers how little IT’s role still is in the life of the Indian people.

“Only 1.4 per cent of urban families in India have computers with Internet access. It is an infinitesimally small part of the urban population, leave aside rural India. There is a huge digital divide in our country. Unless IT bridges this divide, it is going to be a Pyrrhic victory,” he said.

If that was meant to be a reality check for the industry, speaking as president of Nasscom, the national representative body of IT, Kiran Karnik told Manab Mukherjee, Bengal’s information technology minister: “Please influence your friends in Delhi to take IT out of politics. We need the support of the government in order to move forward.”

The statements of both have controversial backgrounds. A few weeks ago there was a huge national outcry over former “farmer” Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda questioning IT’s contribution to Karnataka.

Gopal Gandhi does not share that scepticism because he recognises IT as a tool of development. “Infocom is an excellent manifestation of the potential of the current Indian IT environment,” he said.

At the same time, he warned: “IT cannot remain the personal or professional plaything of India’s billionaires.”

It is not as if industry leaders are not aware of the task. B. Ramalinga Raju, vice-president of Nasscom and chairman of Satyam, said: “We are slowly developing a virtual laboratory environment to access rural India. Healthcare, literacy and education are the areas where we have to focus on to reach out to them.”

In Delhi, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was speaking the same language. “IT should be able to connect with issues like water, agriculture and other basic infrastructure. This is particularly important for rural areas where technology can play a very important role.”

ABP Ltd managing director Aniruddha Lahiri spoke about how “information capital is playing a massive role in shaping modern economies”.

Karnik’s appeal to Mukherjee to “influence friends in Delhi” has as its context CPM labour wing Citu’s cry to unionise IT employees, which has alarmed the industry.

Mukherjee acknowledged the role Infocom has played in promoting Calcutta as an IT destination.

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