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Welcoming Jon Stewart’s New Overlord

Nandan Nilekani was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Watch the excellent segment for yourself (link via e-mail from a friend).

I’ve tried to type most of the transcript, but it is a rush job. All errors are mine, naturally. Here it is, just for the heck of it.

[Begin Transcript]

JS: My guest tonight, he is co-chair of Infosys technologies Ltd. His new book is called Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation. Please welcome to the programme.. Nandan Nilekani.

JS: Thank you very much for joining us.
NN: Thank you for having me.

JS: The book is called… as worthy for a country of a billion people,
it’s super long. it is a super long book
NN: Yeah, it is long. But I think, you know, in a country as large and
complex as India, you need some time to write.. write everything.

JS: And there is a tremendous breadth. One of the thing that I thought was interesting is.. we’ve always viewed a country of a billion people as a detriment. It’s a burden on a country. You see it as an opportunity, it makes you more vibrant.
NN: Yes, that’s a big change. I think we saw population as a liability, now we see it as an asset. We saw it as a burden, now we see it as Human Capital. And India is going through its demographic dividend. When you have a lot of young people in the working age, that’s a very important time for any country.

JS: What’s the median age? Because it’s a shock.. the media age of India is what?
NN: Uh.. mid to late 20s.

JS: Have they got the show Gossip Girl over there yet? I think it would be very big.
NN: Ya, ya. I’ll tell them.
JS: You should tell them.

JS: The way we look at it in this country is.. we believe either India or China will be our new overlords. Ah.. make your case for India. Why do you think India would be a preferrable overlord for the United States, more than China?
NN: Well, I don’t know about that. But..
JS: Don’t.. don’t be modest. You will be our new overlord.
NN: I don’t think so. But I think India is really a.. it’s a country of a billion people.. it’s democratic, it’s having it’s big election next month with 700 million people voting. It’s a very diverse society, so it’s really a.. it’s a good country, you know. It won’t be an overlord, just a good country in the world.

JS: How can they wrangle 700 million votes? Is the voting process.. it’s
not one Tuesday in November, it’s over a month.
NN: It’s spread over 4 weeks. It starts on April 16th and it’s based entirely on electronic voting machines. Over a million voting machines all over the country. And it’s a huge spectacle.. it’s quite an exciting time in India right now.
JS: Now.. who do you.. lets say an electronic voting machine breaks down in India. Do you call someone in the United States.. at that point, to help you with it.. or..
NN: No, I think there are people locally who can fix it.
JS: But will you be able to understand them? That’s the question. Let me ask you this.. why not just.. why have the elections.. why not just take Barrack Obama? Can’t he just be the President of the World?
NN: Well, I guess you have to be somebody born there.
JS: Oh.. you [not clear]

JS: What do you think is the biggest detriment for India right now? What’s the thing that could be the biggest pitfall may be?
NN: I think the lack of education. Because we have a lot of young people who are not getting good schooling. And that’s going to be the difference between a demographic dividend or a demographic disaster. Getting the education right is going to be the key to the next 20 years.

JS: Do you look at America and as you guys are.. a burgeoning economy stepping into it from.. I guess a more socialist economy to a more capitalist economy.. do you look at us and think.. we are.. we want to go in that direction, or do you look at us and think we would not like to go in that direction? Are we a good example for you to move towards? What have to learned from us?
NN: Well, I think a great example on many counts. An open society, a democracy, a meritocracy.. you know.. all the creativity that you have. But on issues like how we manage global warming, how we manage pensions and health care.. I think there are ways in which we can do it differently as we become a richer nation.
JS: If you figure it out.. will you tell us.. because we would like to know.
NN: I’ll come right here and let you know.

JS: You.. in your business, when you were starting it, did it feel possible to you to transform India? Did India seem ungovernable at that point? Did it seem like you couldn’t transform it?
NN: Well, it was a difficult time and a lot of people tried to dissuade us from starting a company. They all said go to America. But we said we’ll stay in India and create a great company, and that’s what we set out to do in Infosys.

JS: They say that if you walk in Bangalore and if you say I am going to see Nandan, they.. people know you are.. Nandan.. like Madonna! In Bangalore.. which is.. I don’t know.. 3 million.. 2..
NN: Six million.
JS: Six million.. uh.. I was only counting half. But.. you are a great source of pride.. by doing that.. I mean it took a great deal of fortitude and guts to make that decision.
NN: Yeah, because when we.. we were 7 of us, and we started with nothing.. 250 dollars, and it was just a vision of what we could do that led us to do that.

JS: Now, where do you see the future of technology? Is that going to be.. to integrate that into education.. because the book is not just about technology.. it takes on from feudalism to secularism.. I mean it really.. the breadth of it is astonishing.
NN: Yeah.. I think technology is an important part. But, there is no substitute for good teachers, and teachers coming to work and stuff like that. So, technology is only an enabler. Fundamentally, you have to get the governance right to make education work.

JS: Now, you’re friends with.. uh.. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. And he wrote the book, The World is Flat, it’s about globalization. It turns out that’s your phrase!
NN: Well, it happened in my office in Bangalore when we talked about what was happening in the world. And I told him how the world was getting levelled with.. level playing field with technology, and that led him to.. inspired him to write the book, The World is Flat.
JS: When you saw his book come out with the title The World is Flat, did you think to yourself, may be I should walk across it and kick his ass for some royalties.. cross it and get some royalties back.
NN: No.. no.. no. I think he has been a great friend and, you know, he.. he really put me on the..
JS: Can I say something..?
NN: Ya..
JS: You are a very kind and lovely man. I welcome you as my new overlord.
NN: Thank you.

[End Transcript]

So, there you go. Nandan Nilekani is Jon Stewart’s new Overlord! As for you, dear reader, I am not going anywhere.

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  1. April 21, 2009 at 5:55 pm

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