Indian tycoon runs for election, bucks Congress’s image
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Indian tycoon runs for election, bucks Congress’s image

Billionaire Infosys founder offers change in how India is run, reports Asia Sentinel’s John Elliott

As the Congress Party stumbles towards what looks like a massive general election defeat, one candidate is performing with the conviction of a potential winner who believes he can help implement change in the way that India works.

Nandan Nilekani, the Congress Party candidate in Bangalore South, is well aware that he has only a 50-50, or maybe 60-40 chance, of defeating the sitting Bharatiya Janata Party MP, Ananth Kumar, but there is no doubt that he is bringing a practical approach and confidence that his party leadership lacks.

A founder and former chairman of Infosys, the iconic information technology company where he worked for 27 years till 2009, Nilekani recently headed the government’s Unique Identification Authority of India that is setting up a countrywide biometric database with personal identity numbers called aadhaar (foundation stone). Bureaucratic and political hassles that hit him building that database have led him to active politics as an elected MP.

Three days ago, I stood with Nilekani on a jeep driving through his constituency’s lower-middle-class crowded lanes and streets at the head of a motorcade of 200 or so cheering flag-waving scooter and motorbike riders. Nilekani waved and namaste’d to the crowds, nudged occasionally by the local Congress legislative assembly member to acknowledge those eager for eye contact.

The most enthusiastic leapt up on the jeep to garland Nilekani and the MLA (and anyone else within arms’ reach including me, twice). He had been out and about since 5.30am when he canvassed early-morning walkers in parks, and he said during a TV interview on the jeep that he found his new role tough and exhausting.

What is this 58-year-old IT tycoon, who has officially declared his and his wife’s wealth at Rs7,700 crore (US$1.28bn), doing seeking mass votes alongside old-style Congress power brokers in street-level politics when doors are open for him in boardrooms, universities and think-tanks across the world?

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