Nandan Nilekani’s ideas about India’s development in 2009: What exactly​ has changed since then and what needs to be done?

Nandan Nilekani, former chairman of UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) in a TED talk in 2009 in California spoke on four kinds of ideas with respect to India’s development:

  • Ideas that have arrived
  • Ideas in progress
  • Ideas in conflict
  • Ideas in anticipation

IDEAS THAT HAVE ARRIVED: These are the ideas that made INDIA what it is today.

  1. People– From being a burden to becoming engines of growth. Now they are seen as a ” demographic dividend”. They are the “human capital”. India is one of the youngest countries in this aging world. But demographic dividend can also turn into a ‘demographic disaster’ if enough steps are not taken to utilize the potential.
  2. Entrepreneurs– From villains to role models.
  3. English language- From the language of the colonizers to the language of jobs. It has turned into a strategic asset and people are aspiring to learn this language. The English language has emerged as the language of aspiration.
  4. Technology- From Man vs Machine to Man and Machine. 90% of India’s mobile phones are prepaid phones. Now, mobile phones have become the instrument of empowerment.
  5. Globalization- From Bombay Plan to Bombay House. Indians are far more comfortable with the phenomenon of globalization.
  6. Deepening of democracy- From one-party rule to thirteen party rule.

IDEAS IN PROGRESS: These are the ideas that are accepted but not implemented yet.

  1. Education- Universal access to primary schools.
  2. Infrastructure- From the political slogan of “Rodi, Kapda, Makan” to the slogan of “Bijali, Sadak, Pani”. There is a change in the mindset.
  3. Cities- As engines of growth. For a long time, cities were neglected in India.
  4. Single Market- Smooth, seamless flow of goods across states.

IDEAS IN CONFLICT: These are the ideas where people have conflict and they are fighting with each other in an ideological battle.

  1. Conflicting political ideologies- Policy-making gridlock. A lot of India’s problems are related to various political ideologies which are creating hurdles in the development process.
  2. Labor Reforms- Job protection hamper job creation. 90% of India’s workers are working in the unorganized sector. They do not have any kind of protection.
  3. Higher Education- State control or private funding. Indian Higher Education is highly regulated in India. It is very difficult for any foreign university to come to India. Higher education is not keeping with India’s demand.

IDEAS IN ANTICIPATION: India is a developing country that can anticipate various ideas to solve the emerging challenges in the present world. India can look to the Western countries for some ideas and create innovative solutions for emerging challenges.

  1. E-governance-Democracy, technology, efficiency, and transparency.
  2. Health- Avoiding diseases of prosperity. There is no point in replacing the diseases of poor countries with diseases of rich countries.
  3. Pensions and Entitlements- Taking care of the future.
  4. Environment- Can India’s growth be clean? We need carbon-neutral and sustainable economic growth.
  5. Energy- Driving growth around a new energy model. We must focus on renewable energy.


YES, things have changed for the better. In “ Ideas that have arrived“, he discussed six things. The Indian government is constantly working hard to harness the potential of ” demographic dividend” through various flagship programs like Make in India, Skill India, Digital India, Start-Up India, etc. The move of demonetization has provided a much-needed fillip to the digital payment system in the country. As per the recent NITI Aayog report, digital payments in the country have grown by close to 23 times since the withdrawal of high currency notes in November last year. Not only this, India has become the third biggest tech start-up hub in the world after USA and UK. We are happily becoming part of globalization and our democracy is more and more deepening which can be seen through the rising voting percentage. Now, people feel proud in flashing their blue-inked fingers after giving a vote. The people of India have realized that they have a stake in the governance process.

In ” Ideas in progress”, he discussed four things. Certainly, in recent years, India has made a lot of progress in all four things. Now we have RTE( Right To Education) Act 2010 which provides compulsory education in primary schools. It was a kind of great achievement for a country like India. The infrastructure sector is booming like anything. In fact, as per the World Bank report, the construction sector of the Indian economy has pulled out so many people from poverty in India. Recently, India has enacted a Real Estate Regulatory Act to regulate the booming housing business in the cities of India. Not only this, the Indian government has launched various housing schemes like PMAY( Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana) to fulfill the goal of ” Housing for All” by 2022. Indian cities have emerged as dynamos as per the latest Economic Survey of India. That is why the government is focusing on Smart City Mission to build 100 smart cities in the country. The Recent passage of the constitutional amendment bills related to GST( Goods and Services Tax) has created hope and aspiration for One India, One Market.

Ideas in conflict are also fiercely debated in our country and the government as well as other stakeholders are trying to find out the solutions. In fact, the advent of technology is acting as a boon for all the conflicting ideas present in our society.  There will always be conflicting ideologies present in our society because of diversity in our society. All these political ideologies must, however, agree on some basic concepts about development, growth and other policy initiatives in International Relations. Labour Reforms are also happening in our country through various initiatives as well as due to some legislative changes in terms of the Apprentice Act, Factory Amendment Act, etc. There is also renewed focus on reforming the Higher Education Sector through NIRF( National Institute Ranking framework), building World Class institutions, and providing MOOC( Massive Open Online Courses) in terms of “Swayam”, GIAN platform, etc. 

India is almost running to achieve and fulfill the ideas discussed in anticipation. India is well ahead in the renewable energy sector and emerging as a world leader in Solar Energy. India also launched an International Solar Mission in 2015 at Paris Summit. India has also adopted SDG(Sustainable Development Goals) and moving fast to create a Digital India as well as a Sustainable India. E-governance as well as M-governance has created a revolution in the governance process to create transparency and accountability. The recently released National Health Policy 2017 envisaged creating a mechanism to provide the “Right to Health” to every citizen of the country. Not only this, our parliament has passed various legislation related to health sectors like the Maternity Benefit Act, HIV Prevention and Control Act, and Mental Health Act, which decriminalized the act of suicide. Pensions and entitlements are also moving in the right direction but it will take a long time to achieve this potential.

In fact, we have come a long way since 2009 when Nandan Nilekani has given this talk. However, we need to do a lot more to create sustainable growth and development in India.


  • Universal Basic Income- To provide a certain basic income to every individual of the country.
  • Cashless or Less-cash Economy- Can India replace its cash economy with a digital economy?.
  • The culture of Startup: Is there any possibility for the next google/Amazon in India?.
  • Smart City or Smart Villages.
  • Parliamentary System vs Presidential System.
  • Freedom of Speech and Expression vs Reasonable restrictions.
  • Nationalism vs Patriotism.
  • Cow Protection vs Human Rights.
  • Religious Freedom vs Individual Freedom.
  • Rights and opportunities for women.

I think that these are the ideas that are going to dominate the year 2017. We will have to introspect and analyze what needs to be done.

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