SM Krishna, Kiran Karnik and President APJ Kalam (courtesy:

President Dr APJ Kalam was late for his keynote address at the India Leadership Forum, Nasscom 2006, by more than an hour. Since I (partly) came on the same road and it was reasonably empty, he couldn't have got stuck in a traffic jam. Turned out, he was stuck in one. Nasscom president Kiran Karnik revealed the president was delayed by a fog at Delhi airport. This was a literal one, not a metaphorical one, he added.

Karnik is very good at doing these things. He maintains a perfect balance. He is respectful but does not grovel. Not like some of the manufacturing guys. The worse I have seen I think belong to the construction industry. Reckon the grovelling is proportioniate to favours received. Karnik was equally business-like with Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh on the first day. But then the IT chaps, within Nasscom and outside, are different.

Rather than wait endlessly, Nasscom smartly kicked off another session. This was on global sourcing. It was quite interesting and laced with wry British humour. Richard Granger, DG of IT for NHS and Les Dawson, CEO of Southern Water (supplies water to south of England) were in good flow (no pun intended)."You measure journey time in Bangalore in days." Or, "The last time I went to a call centre, I thought I had walked into a nursery." "We (the British) gave you administration and bureaucracy. And I believe you've taken it to a new level."

The third speaker, Ian Hau from GSK, was cut short. Before he went, he talked of the need for productivity. Provided an interesting insight. One American farmer feeds 100 people. In India, 60 farmers feed 100 people. Guess what, when it comes to IT, one Indian equals an American, almost. He spoke of digital connectivity as a tool to productivity.

Said how he came via Agra. Whilst there, he mailed a picture to his wife from his laptop. It was of him standing in front of the Taj Mahal. The message was, "Wish You Were Here." His wife immediately sent another photograph back. It was of her standing in two feet of snow in Philadelphia. The message, "Wish You Were Here." But the President is the President. Everyone felt sorry for Lau. He got a long ovation.

Kalam is a darling

And then it was time for Kalam. He is a darling. Some people say they don't find his speeches going anywhere. Kalam arouses a completely different set of feelings in this writer. You feel good to be Indian. You have to acknowledge that merit, education, knowledge, sincerity and honesty can get you somewhere in this country. Despite the so many things that don't work. And the best part is he's cool.

When it comes to a Nasscom-Mckinsey & Co study that he referred to in a slide, he says, "Its a costly report." He never says I will tell you and speak to you. Its always, "I want to discuss with you." Yes, he made a power point presentation. He also ran through it. Later, before leaving, he said, "I am late and those people at TIFR (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) are waiting for me." Like he had been having a cup of coffee with some old friends.

Kalam came with an agenda. Indian IT wants to grow to $60 bn in exports by 2010. He wants it to be $200 bn. "I am here to discuss how to do it." He has an interesting proposition; convert the addressable market for IT and ITes in the world to actual business. He also speaks of setting up a World Knowledge Platform. He runs through complex broadband network diagrams to show how it work. Most of the diagrams are drawn over the south east Asian hemisphere. Philipines has linked 7,000 islands with high speed internet and video conferencing, he said. Philipines has a 155 mpbs network, being upgraded to 622 mbps. India had to link 600,000 villages with technology.

A tale of two CMs

Kalam says he visited Samsung in Korea. And, in his typical style, threw them a challenge. "I am giving all of you here that challenge as well," he adds quickly. He wants a tablet PC that costs between $100 and $120. The PC should be wi-fi, have a telephone, video capability for entertainment, allow for tele-education, medicine, hand writing recogniser and e-business capable. Sounds so fantastic that someone may do it and quite soon !

Flanking Kalam on the dias were Maharashtra governor S M Krishna (former Karnataka chief minister) and Mahrashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. The Maharashtra CM had perhaps read the speech before he arrived at the venue. His eyes were either locked on the ceiling or kept wandering around, or he gazed straight at the sound console at the back. Or was it the door.

Krishna on the other hand was concentrating hard on the speech, even taking notes. His eyes were focussed and his forehead was crinkled. Here was a man who was absorbing furiously. Possibly he could put some of these larnings into practice. Maybe in a future political avatar. It's because of him (largely) that heads of state visit Bangalore when they come to India, even before New Delhi. Only wish he stayed back to clean up the traffic jams.

The Presentation Ain't Loading

Nasscom has done an excellent job of organising the India Leadership Forum this year. The whole place is wi-fi. Yes, its a big deal in India, where hotels typically charge Rs 850 for a day for wi-fi usage. And there is a separate connection for media guys. The speeds are not exactly blistering but it works. Many of the name tags have RFID chips in them.

To digress a little bit, RFID can make things interesting. You could know (theoretically) how many people attended what session. Which bunch went where ? Did the CEOs attend sessions or were they standing outside ? What about the delegates who paid 25 K (Rs) ? What was their attendance behaviour ? Which CEOs attended what sesions ? Who spent the longest time having lunch ? What were the journos doing ? Then I discovered the journos didn't have tags. Maybe Nasscom was a bit scared to tag them !

Something didn't quite work when the President wanted to speak though. A few uniformed guys (government and Nasscom by the looks of it) struggled on stage. And it was an unusually long time. The kind that causes audiences to fidget. Not the usual fiddle once and it starts. The presentation wouldn't load or it was not showing up on the screens.

The guy with a walkie talkie on stage was throwing menacing glances at the back. The good news is that Bill Gates too has had similar problems in the past. Fortunately, the President had to give away the Nasscom innovation awards. To some very interesting companies and entrepreneurs. And then he was on. And yes, we all rose to sing the national anthem, before and after. I don't know about you, but it does give me goose bumps.


Excellent article. APJ is the coolest president, most eligible bachelor, and the dude with the hotest address in New Delhi. The idea of national anthem 'before and after' is fabulous.
Anonymous said…
Kalam IS a darling. I've never found words right enough to describe what I think of him but 'darling' does come pretty close.
Anonymous said…
Fabulous & very Inspiring article GE...
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