Rajiv Gandhi knew what Sundar Pichai could do

The idea of New India or India of 21st Century was conceived in the Eighties, the fag end of previous century. Interestingly, it was also a decade of television in the country. Evening news broadcast announced the assassination of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. The first televised news of the magnitude had tremendous impact on the psych of the nation.

While state was mourning, masses were in grave shock at the sheer barbarity of the plot. Head of the state of the largest democracy on earth was gunned down by her own bodyguards. The corridors of power were abuzz with prospective contenders of reign. The general belief in the Congress party was to pass the baton to the heir apparent son Rajiv Gandhi.

So be it. Elevated to the top post, Rajiv was not a novice. Indira Gandhi groomed her sons to climb the ladder when the time was ripe for their politics. Unfortunate demise of Sanjay ahead of Indira left Rajiv with little option to take the command and spell out his idea of India. Aware of mother’s attempt to empower India capable of implementing modern notions of welfare state, Rajiv Gandhi envisioned marching India into the 21st century.

The announcement by Indian origin Google chief Sundar Pichai to invest $10 billion in the digitization fund of India has the above pretext. Any lame witness to those decades will recollect the unwavering thirst in Rajiv Gandhi to usher in the communications revolution. Judged by any criterion the fact is irrefutable that Rajiv Gandhi is the chief architect of digital India.

During his tenure as prime minister from 1984 to 1989 he set in motion the idea of digital India.

His first state visit to the United States was scheduled in June 1985 to meet President Ronald Reagan. Rajiv Gandhi stole the moment as a television reporter aired a compliment ‘two smartest men of the world’. This Reagan and Rajiv meet is recorded in the history of diplomacy as a turning point. Rajiv chose to catalyze the pace of scientific progress to forge a digital India capable of addressing billion voices on a click of a button.

I read from the statement, President Reagan ‘We’re also building on a strong foundation of cooperation in the fields of science, technology, and space, which permits us with confidence to set ambitious new goals’. Also, ‘have agreed… to consult regularly to ensure that U.S. supercomputer exports to India reflect the rapid pace of scientific advances while at the same time safeguarding U.S. technology’.

Installing these computers in government laboratories was not sufficient for Rajiv. He envisioned taking the technology to every nook and corners of government offices. He was confident that digital India will bear fruits when the remotest village in the country is connected with computers.

He faced stiff challenges from the naysayers who argued that massive computerization drive from the government will snatch jobs from millions and give it to the computers. The arguments were quite vociferous where organized labor unions were involved. For instance the mighty Indian Railways feared that computers would render lakhs of people unemployed. Even his colleagues in the parliament from across the political spectrum suspected that the drive to computerize railway ticket counters will ensure unpopularity for the ruling combine.

Another major argument against computerization flagged for the concern of the prime minister was that the sudden thrust of technology will further widen the divide between the rich and the poor and the town and the village. While naysayers warned that the influx of technology will make the government unpopular among toiling masses.

It was to this argument and to enable his vision of digital India, he stunned the political fabric by bringing in the 72nd and 73rd Amendments to the Constitution of India. This move rattled the political elite further who saw this as an encroachment upon their exclusive territory. They feared that if the government is creating a channel to devolve the power to town councils and village panchayats it is possible only by clipping the MPs and MLAs to the local administrative unit.

I was exalted to hear from Google, India Head, Sanjay Gupta, ‘..we need to connect next 500 million people for restarting India. He alsoattempted a slogan ‘making Internet helpful for billion Indians’. And further exhalting it to ‘When we solve for India, we solve for the world’.

And finally in the very own words of Sundar Pichai, ‘When I was young, every new piece of technology brought new opportunities to learn and grow. But I always had to wait for it to arrive from someplace else. Today, people in India no longer have to wait for technology to come to you. A whole new generation of technologies are happening in India first’.

We are in the 21st century and we are here because at some point of time in history our leaders decided our future.

Rajeev Shukla

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