There is nothing official about it yet, but the buzz in Lutyens Delhi has it that Nandan Nilekani is poised to enter politics and contest the next Lok Sabha elections from South Bangalore on a Congress ticket.
Nilekani did not respond to messages, but three people independently confirmed that both the head of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the Congress party were thinking along these lines.
The constituency is currently represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Ananth Kumar, although there has been talk in Bangalore that the BJP, which lost power to the Congress in the May assembly elections in Karnataka, could field former Indian cricket captain Anil Kumble for this seat. Mint couldn’t independently verify this.
If Nilekani does contest, it will be a brave decision, and well-timed.
Regardless of the outcome—he does stand a good chance of succeeding—Nilekani’s move (if it happens) may just accelerate a transformation in Indian politics.
For one, it comes as a breath of fresh air. For a host of reasons, politicians, like the media, have lost their credibility as a tribe. This is tragic, because it is not and cannot be that all politicians are bad. It is just that the narrative, in the backdrop of corruption scandals and governance failure, has become so bleak that a trust deficit is inevitable. Electing the likes of Nilekani is the first step towards reversing this unhealthy trend and clearing the air.
Second, the ensuing political vacuum has been filled, at one level by the judiciary (not a solution that will work in the long term), and at another, by technocrats such as Nilekani (but since they have not been elected, their legitimacy will always be in doubt). More importantly, their accountability is indirect, something that should be avoided in a democratic framework. Expertise is welcome in government, but elected experts are always preferable to appointed ones.
Third, Nilekani brings to the table a tremendous skill set that is carefully camouflaged by his understated style. Even before he took charge of the ambitious Aadhar project to provide every resident of India with a unique identification number, he had more than proved his mettle as a manager, strategist, and project leader at Infosys Ltd, a software company put together in 1981 by a bunch of enthusiastic technocrats who believed as much in themselves as in the opportunity they perceived.
Fourth, the man has proved ably during his present tenure in government that he can work in and around an existing system; very few of us have the patience to operate from within to inspire change.
A little over a year ago, his project ran into turbulence after it got caught in the crossfire between rival ministries and ministers. Nilekani did not lose heart and kept making his case to the power-that-is and the power-that-may-be. Eventually, he got his way. Those, even in the Congress, who were badmouthing him, turned into supporters overnight—to such an extent that the direct benefit transfer scheme that rides on the Aadhar programme is now being openly touted by Congress functionaries as a vote-catching initiative.
Nilekani’s decision to get his hands dirty in the murky world of Indian politics is both brave and welcome.