The Big B and the CMs

While the 10 chief ministers of Indian states, getting
together under one roof for a luncheon meeting, certainly had Bill Gates on
their minds, they also had other issues on their agenda. Meeting up with the
head honcho of the #1 global software company was not just about getting his
insights, but about sharing their plans, experiences and directions in IT and
e-governance in their own states.

In fact, the meeting wasn’t so much a Bill Gates rendezvous
with Indian chief ministers. It was more of a meeting with CEOs–heads of
states that were more in the business leader mould than typical, quintessential
netas. The Andhra CM’s magic has worked off on many others.

For most of us, brought up on a healthy diet of khaki clad,
cliché spouting politicos, the new-look CMs are almost a culture shock. A breed
different from the traditional politicians we have known, the gathering that met
up with Gates was an IT-savvy, IT-enabled and IT-friendly group of statesmen,
set to move their respective states into the digital era. In fact, so impressed
was Gates by India’s political elite, he stated that even 10 governors from US
states could not have come up with the kind of interesting suggestions that the
Indian think tank had managed.

Gone were the roti kapada aur makaan slogans. In their stead
we witnessed the bandying about of high tech and buzzwords: bandwidth, fiber
optic networks, distance learning, e-governance, and what have you. Our new
slogan is undoubtedly roti, kapada, makaan, bijli aur bandwidth.

The CMs were clearly hell bent on “making an
impression” on Gates. Having shaken off their old mantles, they were set to
prove that they were geared up for the “Internext” generation, and
that they have already created major IT roadmaps for their states. Whether it
was Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh, Keshubhai Patel of Gujarat, Haryana’s Om
Prakash Chauthala, or Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh, the emphasis was
clearly on inviting IT investments within their geographies and creating IT
blueprints for their domains. The Haryana chieftain for instance extolled the
virtues of Gurgaon, an emerging hub of IT and software development, which is now
competing with other “silicon regions” in India such as Bangalore,
Hyderabad, Madras, Mumbai’s SEEPZ, and NEPZ in Noida, UP.

Keshubhai Patel’s thrust was on convincing Gates to bring
Microsoft to Gujarat. He was emphatic about the fact that IT and infrastructure
were the new vistas opening up where giants such as Reliance were showing
interest. Gates in fact committed to the opening up of an office in Gujarat.

Most Indian states today boast an IT policy and most have
major plans for using IT as a tool to improve the lives and times of the people
in their states. The CMs alias CEOs were clear that IT needed to be used as a
crucial tool to take education to the masses and create more jobs and employment
for their electorate. Using technology as an enabler, they are talking in terms
of easing the lives of the man on the street with conveniences such as
e-taxation, e-license delivery, e-education and e-governance.

While Andhra Pradesh’s laptop-wielding chief, Chandrababu
Naidu (four meetings old with Gates) bagged a $50 million investment from
Microsoft in its Hyderabad center, S M Krishna exacted a promise from Gates that
Bangalore would be the latter’s destination of choice on his next visit to
India.

What was interesting to see was that besides the early IT
pioneers such as Karnataka (which houses India’s “silicon plateau”
Bangalore) and Andhra Pradesh, a number of other states are also staking their
claims to the broadening IT pie. Earlier it was only a handful of names that
featured on India’s IT map. Today, the story is quite different. UP chief
minister Ram Prakash Gupta’s inputs led Gates to talk about bringing out
Microsoft products in Indian vernacular languages. From Vilasra Deshmukh and
Chagan Bujbal, Gates evidently got the inspiration to seriously consider doing
some work in the realm of e-commerce and e-governance architecture in
Maharashtra. Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh’s suggestion that Microsoft
adopt a school in the remote interiors of the state was considerably favorably.

Pushing the case for Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot convinced
Microsoft’s chairman that remote education would prove to be an oasis in the
vast, dry landscape of the state.

Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit’s innovative idea of an IT college
for training teachers also went down well with Bill Gates, as also did the
Punjab CM Badal’s suggestion that India’s rich state needed to move from an
agrarian economy to an IT-led life on the superhighway.

Gates’ interaction with India’s “state CEOs”
then was almost a meeting of contemporaries with business on their minds. It’s
a new bunch of CMs we have today; a far cry from the old time stereotypes.

The net effect of his luncheon interaction with the ministers
was that Bill Gates received at least ten different perceptions about the Indian
market, which in turn led him to think in new directions.

The net gain for India was that Bill Gates is now a new
ambassador for the Indian IT industry. Since his visit to India, he has already
made two powerful statements. One, that India is a software superpower. Two, if
the US has first-mover advantage in software products, then India has the
first-mover advantage in software services. Billion-dollar statements from the
world’s richest man.

Dewang Mehta
is president of Nasscom, the National Association of Software and Services
Companies of India

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