Rajiv would’ve been proud of our accomplishments in telecom sector

India’s telecom man Sam Pitroda writes on his journey with Rajiv Gandhi and, more importantly, how his presence is sorely missed

Photo courtesy: Twitter\@PradyotManikya
Photo courtesy: Twitter\@PradyotManikya

Sam Pitroda

Today is the 26th Death Anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi. The young, dynamic Prime Minister of India was taken away at an early age. For me, it is time to review, reflect and remember Rajiv Gandhi, his accomplishments and his dream of India of the 21st century.

I personally miss him very much. He gave real meaning to my life by empowering me to dream big for India. He facilitated my work on telecom & technology missions in India. The technology missions were related to rural drinking water, immunisation, literacy, edible oil, telecom and dairy development. We were also planning missions on environment, housing, floods and droughts in the future.

When we started our journey on telecom to connect India, we had only two million phones in 1983. In a short span of over 30 years, we now have a billion phones. Today, India is a country of a connected billion. This required focus on digital technology, Access, rural telecom, indigenous development, local production, ancillary industries and human capacity with focus on young talent. It also required a by-pass in the system to create new work culture, work norms, work values, work environment, etc. with autonomy, freedom and flexibility.

He would have been very proud of our accomplishment in telecom and connectivity. The seeds we planted have now blossomed into fruits for one billion people in India. At the same time now we generate around $150 billion worth of software/services exports. This has given us global visibility, recognition and respect and confidence to deal with technology to solve large national problems. He would have also been proud of the fact that the technology mission on immunization finally eradicated polio all together from India.

Similarly, technology mission on water eradicated Guinea-worm disease from over 30,000 villages in India all together. Do our young know what a Guinea-worm is? Please Google it.

The country is now 75% literate and benefitting from privatisation, liberalisation, free market economy and globalization. All of which were discussed, debated and, to some extent, started in the Rajiv Gandhi era. I was fortunate to be a partner in dreaming big with him to build a strong, powerful and respectful India in the 21st century that we all could be proud of.

In eighties, we started many new initiatives and institutions like Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), Telecom Commission, Technology Mission, Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), just to name a few. We also developed India’s first super computer in Pune, using indigenous capabilities. The Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister under the leadership of Prof CNR Rao, with distinguished leaders from business, science and academicians helped strengthen our foundation in education, science and technology.

With Rajiv, I also had an opportunity to meet many global leaders including Gorbachev (Russia’s President at the time) to share proudly India’s vision, values and capabilities. Rajiv Gandhi was always full of energy, enthusiasm and positive energy, with clear vision and excellent management capabilities to help execute. Every time we met, we got along well and felt energised and empowered to go do more new interesting things for the people of India. Our focus was always on inclusion, basic human needs, institution-building technology, connectivity, young talent and Indian model of development.

He always systematically reached out to intellectuals, business, civil society, women, academicians, domain experts and young talent for input, ideas and advise. He was also open to self-criticism. I still remember his speech at the Congress Centennial celebration about the state of the Congress Party. That speech and many on various other subjects from environment to human rights are equally important and valid today 30 years down the road.

His unfortunate and untimely death was the biggest blow to India’s future in technological developments and new opportunities. By 1990, just before his death, he was much wiser, experienced, confident and a committed young leader, who had a clear vision of India aligned with our founding fathers.

Like any other leader, different people had different images and understanding of Rajiv Gandhi. I can say with great confidence and comfort that I understood him well, having worked with him for almost a decade. He was indeed a very simple, humble, clear, capable, committed, courageous and collaborative leader. He worked long hours and took interest in his team and, their work.

Of course, I am biased because I worked closely with him and interacted with him regularly on a variety of subjects. We would meet late at night to discuss national and global issues of importance. When he died, I literally lost my heart. I was broken. I lost my courage to carry on. Images of his funeral are etched in my mind and heart forever. He was very special to me and my family.

I miss him a lot. I don't think I can ever recover from his loss.

May Rajiv Gandhi live forever in our courage and commitment to build a strong, inclusive and technologically advanced India to benefit our diversity, demography and development.

The piece has been reproduced from Sam Pitroda’s Facebook profile.

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Published: 21 May 2017, 6:56 PM