IT Man of the Year 2001

Pramod Mahajan has not only helped the Indian IT sector strengthen its roots
within the country, he has also joined hands with key Asian leaders like Goh
Chok Tong, Dae-Jung and Natsagiya Bagabandi to build a resurgent regional
identity–one that identifies knowledge-sharing as the basis for a Pan Asian
brotherhood. Along the way, he has also pushed path-breaking legislation

When Pramod Mahajan first used a telephone at the age of 29 in 1978, he was
really thrilled. He would have been far more thrilled had someone informed him
that 23 years down the line, he would be heading India’s communications
ministry or, that when India became one of the few nations to create a separate
IT ministry, he would be asked to call the shots. Neither would he have dreamt
that he would be hailed as the “progressive, proactive minister of the
sunrise ICT industry” and eventually be conferred two of the most
prestigious awards in the field of IT–the Asocio IT Award and Dataquest’s IT
Man of the Year Award, both in the same year.

Today, the 52-year old minister of IT, Telecommunications and parliamentary
affairs has not only managed to push key legislation to help the Indian IT
sector strengthen its roots within the country, he has also helped establish the
India Inc brand overseas. And after the untimely death of the country’s
biggest IT lobbyist, Dewang Mehta, Mahajan found himself seamlessly taking upon
Mehta’s unfinished agenda to see India through its journey to being the next
IT superpower (a word he actually hates as it is reminiscent of the Cold War
era!).

The minister is also quick to point out that the excitement around India’s
IT capabilities is not just hype. ‘‘We have gone through the Green
Revolution, where we made ourselves independent with regards to food. In some
parts of the country, we had what we call the White Revolution, where milk
production was increased. But I don’t think there has ever been anything apart
from the IT revolution that has set everybody on fire,’’ he says.

Not that he is unaware of the challenges that confront this growing sector.
According to him, the ICT sector needs to tackle five challenges–privatization,
deregulation, globalization, competition and convergence. He also feels that
while the world recognizes India’s IT potential, the country has still not
reached the status of a superpower. And while he categorically points out that a
miracle has indeed occurred since NTP ’94 and NTP ’99 and the country has
been treading the right policy path on the power front, he also talks about the
need to tackle telecom and power issues on a war footing. ‘‘Unless we make
ourselves self sufficient and modern and achieve international standards on both
fronts, we cannot sustain the momentum of this revolution,’’ he says.

He points out that the country’s strength does not lie in world-class
telecom or power infrastructure. ‘‘Our strength lies in our world-class
human resources,’’he says adding that the real challenge is to ensure that
IT-enabled services reach the people. No guesses on why he wants to create a
reservoir of 10 million Indians in the knowledge sector. ‘‘We should be the
reservoir of knowledge that the world can outsource,’’ Mahajan speaks of his
dream the way Dewang Mehta used to.

No wonder, over the years he has networked with politicians and bureaucrats,
academics and businessmen, scientists and entrepreneurs, nudging and
occasionally coercing people to facilitate the growth of the ICT segment. He has
also single-handedly managed to convert bureaucratic red tape into a red carpet
welcome for entrepreneurs and investors. In fact, in June 2001 when Mahajan was
delivering the keynote address at the Information Technology Association of
America’s (ITAA’s) annual convention in Orlando, he made a huge impact on
the audience comprising150 corporate IT CEOs from the US. Here, he pointed out
that India was going through its second freedom struggle–the IT Revolution,
which would give to the country, economic power and sovereignty. He advised US
and Indian IT companies to prepare together and beat the slowdown. He also
earned the distinction of being the only non-US minister to have been invited to
address the forum.

Mahajan has also been a fast learner. As soon as he got the additional charge
of Communications, he immediately proposed the integration of IT and
Communications ministries, recognizing the fact that convergence was no longer a
concept of the future. ‘‘I now think that convergence is very simple.
Communication is synonymous with IT and we have technology that enables
extremely fast communication,’’ he says. In fact he prefers to term IT as
the fourth generation of communication and believes that the country is just
three to five years away from convergence. ‘‘The IT boom is all about a new
form of human communication. And when the mode of communication changes, the
rules of the game also need to be amended,’’ he says philosophically.

He is philosophical about his job too. And while he jokingly says that he was
given charge of the MIT because the Prime Minister did not know were to put him,
he feels that his job as Minister for IT and Communication is to champion the
cause and spread awareness about the potential these sectors offer.

And apart from his key role, Mahajan has also dared to dream beyond the
country’s boundaries. He has joined hands with the likes of Prime Minister Goh
Chok Tong of Singapore, President Kim Dae-Jung of South Korea and President
Natsagiya Bagabandi of Mongolia to build a resurgent Asian identity. Mahajan’s
is a dream that identifies knowledge sharing as the basis for Pan Asian
brotherhood.

Shubhendu Parth in New Delhi

"India has been successful in the IT and beauty industries as there are no ministries involved!"

Ministerspeak: Vintage Mahajan on IT, telecom, India and himself

On India’s potential to become an IT superpower…
It is both undesirable and impossible to dismantle our existing systems
overnight. We don’t even have our infrastructure in place in order to match
world class standards. Telecom and power are two essential components of IT,
which need improvement. But at the same time, the IT revolution that is
happening in the country has set everyone on fire. I don’t want to use the
word ‘superpower.’ That was a term used during the Cold War. We missed the
Industrial Revolution because we did not have enough capital. Now, we don’t
want to miss the IT revolution, because we have enough knowledge capital. Our
strength lies in our human resources and Indians working in the Silicon Valley
have proved this. The government has a vision for the next 10 years and is
working towards it.

On the phenomenon of convergence…
IT is all about communication and we now have technology that enables that
very quickly. Voice communication between humans, seeing each other through
video or exchanging information in the form of data are all part of the
convergence phenomenon that will take off within the next three to five years.

On MIT’s contribution to the growth of the industry…
I often say that India has been successful in the IT and beauty industries
because there were no ministries involved! But that is in the lighter vein…
Nowhere in the world can you develop an industry without the involvement of the
government or the law. A sunrise industry like IT needs focussed attention from
policy makers. And I think the creation of the Ministry of IT has only helped
boost its growth. We have implemented a majority of the reforms recommended by
the IT Task Force set up in 1998. At a policy level, we have taken significant
steps. We have an advisory board which consists of prominent people from the IT
industry. We are constantly in touch with Nasscom. I think this is the most
industry-friendly of all ministries and is one, which encourages interaction. I
take my role as a lobbyist for the IT industry very seriously and have been
sincerely working for its cause.

On the digital divide…
It is true that sometimes people think IT is an English-speaking, elite and
urban Indian phenomenon. But when I move around in the villages, I actually have
people requesting me to do something about IT for them. Ministers ask me for IT
parks – half of them probably don’t know that there are no trees in these
parks, just chips! That is the yardstick of a revolution. The challenge before
the IT industry, is not exports worth $50 billion. That will happen anyway. The
real challenge is to ensure that IT-enabled services reach the people. Within
the next three or four years, we should be able to show the last man on the
street that IT has improved his life.

SHWETA VERMA in New Delhi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *