This is the best time ever to be a young Indian: Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar


Kochi: Union Minister of State for Electronics & Information Technology and Skill Development & Entrepreneurship Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Friday that this was the best time ever to be a young enterprising Indian.

“We are living in the most interesting, opportunity-rich time in the history of India,” Chandrasekhar said while delivering the keynote address at the fifth edition of Manorama Online's Techspectations held at le Meridien in Kochi on Friday.

The minister gave a piece of interesting anecdotal evidence to demonstrate his point. This occurred a couple of years ago before Boris Johnson had to bow out of office as the Prime Minister of Britain.

Breakfast at 10 Downing

Chandrasekhar was leading a panel of 30 startup entrepreneurs to London. The moment he touched down, the Indian High Commissioner told him that seven cabinet ministers were eager to meet him. Chandrasekhar was elated.

“I thought very highly of myself. I thought I have become so famous that world leaders now want to meet and talk to me until I was told that their real interest was to meet with the startup heads,” Chandrasekhar said.

Later, the Indian delegation was hosted for breakfast at 10 Downing Street. Prime Minister Boris Johnson came up to Chandrasekhar and shook his hands. This was July 4, 2022, just four days before Johnson had to quit his premiership. Even at that point, Chandrasekhar said Johnson was perhaps unaware that he was on the verge of losing his job.

“He came up to me, shook my hands and asked: 'What is it that you are putting in the water and food in India, what is it that is making these youngsters so impressive and ambitious',” the minister said. He gave a one-line reply. “We are enabling every Indian to dream.”

Revolution in a Nagaland village

Chandrasekhar said India has taken great strides towards the three outcomes laid down by Prime Minister Narendra Modi while initiating the Digital India programme in 2015.

One, the Prime Minister wanted technology to transform the lives of ordinary citizens and make an impact on governance and democracy. “For decades India has been seen as a dysfunctional democracy. We have now turned this on its head. Today, pension and subsidies reach beneficiaries without leakages,” the minister said.

He gave the example of Zunhebuto, an obscure village in Nagaland, a place, in Chandrasekhar's telling, where no minister had ever been for over 60 years. There were 500-odd poor villagers gathered there. “I asked how many secured their benefits like pension through direct benefit transfer. All of them put their hands up,” he said.

Coffee at Sukh Ram's

Two, the Prime Minister wanted the digital economy to grow.

Chandrasekhar said the trillion-dollar digital business in the country was not powered by the big four or five companies but by hundreds and thousands of startups and unicorns developed by hundreds and thousands of young entrepreneurs.

“We are now 80,000-odd startups and over 100 have achieved Unicorn status,” he said. “We are now a digital economy that the world admires and sometimes even envies,” he added.

Chandrasekhar also said that unlike in earlier times, the ministers now measured their success on the scale of the number of successful startups they had helped incubate. He spoke of his experience when he started out as a young digital entrepreneur.

“Entrepreneurship then was a more difficult process. The government's relationship with entrepreneurs was couched in suspicion. It was also one of quid pro quo,” he said.

Union Minister of State for Electronics & Information Technology and Skill Development & Entrepreneurship Rajeev Chandrasekhar delivering the keynote address at Techspectations 2023. Photo: Manorama

He recalled how the then telecom minister Sukh Ram had invited him home to do a presentation on his pitch for constructing the first cellular network in India. More meetings were called, biscuits and coffee were served. “I thought I had scaled the heights as an entrepreneur,” he said.

But how low things had plumbed was revealed only in the third meeting. The minister asked him what looked like a very avuncular question. Chandrasekhar was only 27 then. “Don't you have any older person in your house who can understand why I have been calling you,” Sukh Ram asked the young man.

World's darling

Three, the Prime Minister wanted India to cease being a consumer of technology and reinvent itself into a producer of new technologies that will lead the world.

Chandrasekhar gave his own example to stress how far India had progressed in this path. “When I built my cellular network here nearly 30 years ago, every piece of equipment, including the billing software, was imported. Perhaps, the only thing not imported were the screwdrivers,” he said.

“Today, in this era of 5G and semiconductors and AI, India is designing solutions and devices and products that range from 5G systems to AI for the world and for Indians,” he said.

As an example of India's growth as a producer of new cutting-edge technology, the union minister said that eight countries were going to sign up with India Stack, which is a set of application programme interfaces (APIs) that allows governments, businesses, startups and developers to utilise the digital infrastructure India had created like Aadhaar Authentication, eSign, Digital Locker and Unified Payment Interface.

Babel translator

Further, Chandrasekhar spoke of the technology-driven disruption that was causing a radical churn in the creative space.

“South Indian movies are now garnering huge amounts of audience and eyeballs and revenues where none existed before,” Chandreaskahr said.

He said that AI-driven language translations would disrupt content creation in unimaginable ways. “A producer of Malayalam movies who usually grants rights to Manorama or Asianet of traditional distributors can now make her product available in multiple languages as a result of language translations that could be done on the fly without incurring any dubbing or production costs,” Chandrasekhar said.

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