Nandan Nilekani is leaving Infosys as its co-chairman to join the government. He has the task of handing out a unique identification card to every citizen of this country. It’s a simple enough task by itself; but made complex by a large population, spread across a vast geography and the failure of such schemes in the past. Nearly a decade ago, the election commission’s voter identity card programme is still to cover vast parts of the population. Mr Nilekani’s challenge will be to do much better.
Infosys Technologies is quite well equipped at the top to deal with the exit of its co-chairman. NR Narayana Murthy had handed over the post of the CEO to Mr Nilekani in 2002, moving over to become the chairman. He in turn handed over the top job to S Gopalakrishnan in 2007. And these are just the founders. There is a strong layer of senior professional executives who run the company.
Mr Nilekani will become the chairperson of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIAI), with a cabinet minister rank. This is apparently useful because he will be liaising with various government authorities, where rank matters. He owns about 3.5% in Infosysy (beneficial ownership), which will give him enough by way of dividends not to bother about his pay cheque. His vision will be to achieve the legendary status that few outsiders have achieved from inside the government. Sam Pitroda is one name that comes to mind. He will need to transform mindsets across levels and across states in the government for this programme to succeed.