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Karnataka polls: Sam Pitroda says NRI support, Rahul Gandhi's revamp of Congress can make difference

Bengaluru, Karnataka: Technologist, policymaker and staunch Congressman Sam Pitroda was in Bengaluru over the weekend to discuss highlights of the Congress manifesto in front of an audience of voters and senior party leaders. On Monday, he also led a press conference to highlight the role of non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the upcoming elections as the chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, an office he has held for a year.

 Karnataka polls: Sam Pitroda says NRI support, Rahul Gandhis revamp of Congress can make difference

Sam Pitroda. Agencies.

“There are 30 million Indians living outside of India. They are not only in big numbers, but are also well-accomplished, influential and have strong ties back home. We decided in the Congress party some time ago that we need to revive our communications and connection with NRIs. This is why Rahul Gandhi recently spent some time in countries like US, Bahrain, Singapore, Malaysia, etc, to meet with people at various levels and sectors. The idea behind this was to learn how they can contribute and also help and encourage them to remain connected with India”, he says.

The idea is to take their help to stem the populist tide currently being witnessed, both at home and abroad. “The world over we are seeing populist governments using patriotism as an excuse to prejudice a group of people. Not just in India, but in the US and Europe too, we are seeing that there is a knee-jerk reaction to globalisation, that the world is becoming one and boundaries won’t matter in the long run. Technology has no boundaries and people with brains are useful everywhere. But political leaders don’t know how to address this yet”, Pitroda says. Edited excerpts of an interview follow:

What role does Congress hope that NRIs would play in the Karnataka elections?

Pitroda: There are many people from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh who are here to help during the elections because they believe strongly in the Congress ideology and plan. They have seen the manifesto and they identify with the values and the work the party has outlined. Only last week I spoke to Dr Dayanand Naik, and he immediately said I want to come and help. He is a busy man, a cardiologist and professor, but he is now here for ten days to help. The role of NRIs in campaigning can be as effective as they want to make it. But they have to be here. They can't be effective sitting there. So, if ten people come here, they can be ten times as effective. Depends on how much time and energy they are willing to put in. But if they can just convince their families and friends and communities, that's good enough. In the 2019 election, I am counting on NRIs to play an important role.

What was your role in the formation of the Karnataka Congress manifesto?

Pitroda: Unlike in Gujarat, I did not play an active role in this manifesto. But I shared with the committee the process I used when I was working on the Gujarat manifesto. I didn’t want to get into micromanagement when it was being handled by a senior man like Veerappa Moily. But I will point out that for the first time in our manifesto, we included several activities related to NRIs: For example, giving official recognition through NRI cards in Karnataka, creating migration resource centres in Bengaluru, Mangalore and Hubli, issuing Pravasi identity cards, giving rebates to NRI investors to encourage them to start industries and special concessions for investments in some areas.

If you are given the opportunity to lead another new revolution post-2019, what would it be?

Pitroda: I would focus on agriculture technology of all kinds. Because this country of 1.2 billion people not only needs to produce enough food, but also needs to improve nutrition. And we could be the food capital of the world. We are blessed with enough land and rivers, but we have not used the right technology in the past, and opted for the use of wrong kinds of fertilisers and chemicals. Small farms are okay as long as they are high-tech. Technology wise, there's a lot of effort in agriculture: Research projects that focus on increasing the yield from an acre of land by 150 times, innovations in quality of the food, cost, packaging, storing, distribution, processing, nutrition and genetic experimentation. I am for us becoming a world leader in food tech.

You have spoken about redesigning our thinking to suit the new age. How would you like to see this implemented in the Indian political space?

Pitroda: I think we need new conversations in the country. A youthful country with 500 million people under the age of 25 should be having a different kind of conversations. But we are still talking about caste, religion and other bogus things which are for people in their 70s. No one is talking about future, only the past, about Ram and Hanuman. I don’t want to be involved in that. The conversation has to change and be about the future, science, logic, possibilities, innovation and creating opportunities: That should be the national conversation. The press is also to be blamed. Everyone goes ahead to report and publicise these because we love all this gossip.

Is Congress still functioning like it was in the 80s? What has to change?

Pitroda: It has to change and it will change now. Rahul knows this. There is no other option, otherwise we are finished. Earlier, there was too much resistance from the old guard. Now that he is in charge, he will do it. Rahul is bringing in a lot of young people and putting systems in place for the future. The party is using computerisation more effectively to manage, monitor and understand big data analytics.

Take a simple example: We never had booth-level management in Karnataka. No one knew who was managing the booths. For the first time, we compiled a complete list of 54,000 booths with names, locations, people in charge and list of people supporting the booth manager. So, over half a million people have been identified for the first time and put in a database. This had never been done but it should have been done a long time ago. Thanks to computerisation, you can now tell the booth guys directly what their roles are and how they can bring more people in to vote. It will make a big difference.

Ayswarya Murthy is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer and a member of, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters

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Updated Date: May 03, 2018 10:55:48 IST