Modern India! The images span software exports and experts, malls and the range of efficient cars from global leaders, foreign direct investment and foreign acquisitions. In the glitter of globalization, all that the “public sector” stands for is seen as a blot on the national fabric. There are only rare faint whispers to remind us that without this same public sector, without the government sector’s contribution, there would have been no success stories such as Infosys or Big Bazaar, no Tata Indicas and no Sterlite!
Today, the public sector would feature extremely low, if at all, on the list of employment options for an IIT graduate. I believe this stance to be flawed. It is not privatization that makes a corporate organization effective and forward-looking, but empowerment. Give the public sector enterprises the authority to hire, fire, reward and rebuke; make them accountable for delivery and subject them to severe performance audits.
As the first director of the Indian National Satellite (Insat) project, and as chairman and managing director of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, my sense of achievement has been in having contributed to changing the lives of millions of Indians, and not running after unscrupulous fame and fortune derived from manipulating the stock markets or such other petty actions. It was the public enterprises—including the government-subsidized IITs and IIMs—that seeded the country’s knowledge industries and technical renown. India could not have been what it is today without these, without the planned development of its first 40-plus years. When it suffered brain drain regardless, it was surely time to evaluate what was going wrong—that lack was squarely the fault of the managers of India. The lack was in a sufficient emphasis on becoming more self-sustaining, more commercially oriented. A lack that continues to different degrees even today. With the changing times, the IITs must learn to interact even more with industry and vice versa.
It is a matter of pride for the country that institutes such as the IITs—from IIT Kharagpur, the first of the IITs, which was set up in 1951 under the outstanding leadership of Sir J.C. Ghosh—are still champions of academic excellence, recognized worldwide.
More, the IITs are still the production centres of some of India’s most ardent patriots—such as Dr Nina Saxena, the topper with perfect scores in her grade point averages at IIT Kharagpur, at USF Tampa and at the University of Texas, one of Intel’s star senior engineers, who worked hard to raise finances to set up venture capital funds for solar energy projects in India’s tribal and other remote rural areas.
It is not surprising that IIT Kharagpur would celebrate this dedication to the country’s development by setting up the Nina Saxena Memorial Fund and instituting the Nina Saxena Excellence in Technology award. While the award celebrates excellence at the grass-roots level, the IIT Foundation seeks to promote innovation that contributes to society.
Today India is recognized as a centre of technical excellence; however, it would be wrong to only look at corporate success stories. The inspiring story of Nina Saxena as an outstanding individual who turned her attention from a cushy corporate job to looking to use technology and expertise for the greater social good is a case in point. We need more of such individuals who can harness the technical prowess of India for the benefit of the nation.
It is time that this technological excellence goes hand in hand with excellence in understanding duty towards society as a whole.
Brijendra Kumar Syngal, an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, is currently vice-chariman of BPL Communications; he was formerly CMD of VSNL and director of Insat. Comments are welcome at email@example.com