At the Grand Hyatt hotel in Kalina, suburban Bombay, the who's who of the Indian information technology industry has assembled for The India Leadership Forum, Nasscom 2006. Its brighter, grander and more slickly put together than ever before. In the Grand Ballroom, six giant screens and a crystal clear JBL speakers ensure video and audio reach every corner of the room. Later, the Grand Ballroom splits into three Ballrooms for specific `tracks'.
The quality of attendance is pretty impressive, perhaps the most impressive ever. The chief technology officers (CTOs) of Citibank, Microsoft and British Airways are here. They look like they want to be here, not a grudging `let's check it out' presence. So is the Director General of IT for UK's NHS. Top IT guys from banks like ABN Amro and Deutsche Bank are there as well. Joining them are a bevy of top notch venture capitalists, IT consultants and academicians from the world over.
To make an old point, where and when there is opportunity, people will come. Despite Bombay international airport. You don't necessarily have to go to Davos with Shiamak Davar in tow. Meanwhile, the home crowd is in full attendance, despite the high delegate fee of Rs 25,000 each. One heard some grumbling. Though delegates did get a nice lovely leather bag and assorted sponsor merchandise. The platinum and gold sponsor lists reflect the diversity of interest - Welsh Development Authority to DLF Universal.
The Flat World
New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman held forth yesterday. He is a pretty good speaker. Many people don't like him and castigate him for oversimplifying matters. I don't. Possibly because I am a journalist too and think that one of my jobs is to do precisely that. And I don't mind being paid loads of money first to write a book and then to speak on it. And yes, make money doing both.
Having said that, Friedman belongs to the Kevin Freiberg (author of Nuts, the book on Southwest Airlines) category of speakers. More like management gurus, more like motivational speakers. There is much raising and dropping of voice, pounding of lectern and transfixing of eyes on unsuspecting, front row seaters. "I know some of you have read my book. I know some of you have not, I know exactly who you are," he says solemnly, peering around the hall with a knowing gaze. A detailed piece with some quotable quotes will follow.
Mahrashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh who inaugurated the function formally (a little earlier) on Wednesday appeared to have done his homework, or got someone to do it. He said that 32% of internet subscribers in India were in Maharashtra, 35 % of PCs were in Maharashtra and 32% of the IT professionals in the country were in Mumbai and Pune. And before you could say it, he did. "I know there is congestion on the roads and power is not reliable."
Waiting For Guidance
It's a favourite politician tactic. Articulate the problem before someone else does it. And look reasonably miserable whilst doing so. That way, the other side does not have the heart to pounce on you or berate you. Then Deshmukh went the whole hog. He credited Nasscom for Maharashtra's IT success story. "Its because of your constant support and guidance. Its your initiative. This is not the complete story, we are just waiting for your guidance and advice to make the state more friendly." A master stroke, I thought, for someone who has done so little.
Deshmukh concluded by saying he promised he was looking into all the issues relating to infrastructure. "I am concentrating on this personally," he said. He added, for good measure, that the power minister (Sushil Kumar Shinde), the aviation minister (Praful Patel) and the oil minister (Murli Deora) were from Maharashtra. So, the state will benefit, he said. I thought of doing a statistical analysis to prove how no such thing has ever worked in the past. But then came the golden promise. "In five years, we will become a world class metro."
Outside, a former Nasscom head honcho told me they had to run to the government to get the access road to the Grand Hyatt paved properly in time for the event. And that's the staggering contrast. It took me 30 minutes to cross one signal near Santacruz (between the Grand Hyatt and the domestic airport). Because there were no traffic police and impatient drivers were charging onto the road from all sides. This was at 10.30 am in the morning. And you better be careful because thousands, literally thousands, of people are walking briskly on the road. Because the pavements are encroached.
And then you turn off the Western Express Highway (kindly excuse the term Express or Highway) drive up to the Hyatt and enter another world. In his inaugural speech, not surprisingly, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) chief and Nasscom chairman S Ramadorai made a fitting case for new, integrated townships. "We want integrated townships with their airports and universities so that we reduce pressure on cities and spread benefits of development across landscape." Can't blame him for asking. But what's to happen to the rest of us ?