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November 16, 1999


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No moredurbars, meet-the-people sessions... Or at least not with the same fanfare, now that chat in analog has become infra dig. That's why new Karnataka Chief Minister S M Krishna is out to prove that he's both approachable and computer-saavy, is out to reinvent himself as an IT-literate CM. Email this feature to a friend.

If you doubt it, he's already available on e-mail at or for now. And, in another couple of months, you might be able to chat directly online with him when he is at his home office, Krishna, in Bangalore.

Until a month ago, Somanahalli Mallayya Krishna knew next to nothing about computers or the Internet. He has surfed a few times at his son-in-law Sidharth Hegde's Coffee Day Cyber Café chain, but laboured through those clicks only due to the presence of many a helping hand.

Now Krishna is suddenly talking computers all the time, with the panache of a man who has topped the MCSE. And not a week passes without his making some much-publicised progress regarding computer literacy. Barely 10 days after he was sworn in as the Congress chief minister of Karnataka, the image-conscious Krishna began sporting a palm top.

Being a CM has its advantages. He got state IT Secretary Sanjoy Das Gupta and some scientists from the Indian Institute of Science to teach him how to turn on a PC. They also educated him with some of the more complex aspects of Internet use -- like how to open an e-mail account.

Of course, his critics lost no time in dubbing it a case of more hype, fewer hyperlinks.

"Why doesn't he get down to brass tacks and make the existing administrative structures work better instead of saying he will use technology to make it work better?" asks Legislative Council Janata Dal-United leader M C Nanaiah.

"He's just engaged in a me-too image-building exercise," remarked another senior Congressman caustically. "Chandrababu Naidu's success in AP has made laptop use and cyber terminology fashionable in political circles."

Others say that if Krishna just wants to learn how to use a PC and the Internet effectively, all he need to do is set up a system at home and summon any of his son-in-law's Internet managers from the cybercafes to teach him the basics. Instead, he makes much-publicised visits to the supercomputer centre at the IIS, where several researchers teach him while the paparazzi click away on analog cameras.

However, the IT industry seems all set to give Krishna the benefit of the doubt, particularly because it's all for it's good.

"I think he is being quite sincere," Nandan Nilekani, MD, Infosys Technologies, told "We welcome his genuine interest and believe that a highly-motivated CM could do much to improve the economy in general, and the IT industry in particular, in Karnataka. If he builds up the infrastructure, for starters, and makes the right policies, it would be great beginning."

One of the first things Krishna did after taking over was to announce an IT task force featuring people like Wipro chairman Azim Premji and Infosys chairman N R Narayana Murthy. Premji subsequently said his name had been announced without consulting him. Nobody, including Krishna, knows just yet what this task force is to do.

He now has an e-mail, monitored full-time by a government official who checks the two mailboxes every day and ensures all messages reach Krishna, even when he is out of Bangalore.

If it is only an image-building exercise, it has still helped Krishna. But if it is a genuine effort to provide better governance (the chief minister's favourite word of the week now is e-governance), then Krishna will certainly reap long-term benefits -- as Naidu has.

Excerpts from an interview with M D Riti wherein, with all the enthusiasm of a new convert, Krishna speaks of how he learnt to love the Internet:

What got you interested in learning to use a PC now?

It is the latest technology invented now, and anyone who would like to wed technology with administration will have to think in terms of seeing the world through computers and then putting whatever that offers -- by way of inputs and help -- to maximum use to administer the state.

Did you find it difficult to learn how to use a PC?

Initially, yes. But anyone can operate a PC quite easily.

Were you always interested in computers?

Not really. To be quite honest, I wasn't. But only when I came to take over the administration, and began thinking about how to widen the scope and improve the speed and pace of work, did I realise that I must start using a PC.

How did you actually set about learning how to use a PC? Who taught you?

I have the whole IT department of Karnataka with me on this. They set up everything for me. I am still not firmly into it because I am still in a state of flux right now. I will be shifting shortly to my official residence. I will have that place given good Internet connectivity, and operate from there. Besides, we have Internet in my offices in Vidhana Soudha, of course.

But you intend to be very hands-on with a PC and Internet, yourself?

Oh yes, I would like to use a PC myself and work with it as often as I possibly can. Tomorrow, I will be spending two more hours learning this business more with my teacher. Then again, by the end of the week.

Who is this teacher?

Professors of the Indian Institute of Science. They give me a lot of tips on how to learn to use IT. Our IT headquarters is at this institute.

Do you think becoming computer literate will make a difference to your efficacy as chief minister of Karnataka?

Firstly, it will bring about a reform in me, in my approach, my concept, and perception. And I'm sure that whatever I learn, I will be able to pass on to the people through my administration.

What exactly do you mean by a change in your own approach? Approach to what?

To everything. If I want to talk to collectors, to the chiefs of zilla parishads, to the district industrial centres, I will be able to do it very easily. We are setting up computers in all these offices, you see. We will be able to know about agricultural development, the prices of onions and tomatoes, through the Internet.

And I am going to set up a web site for myself. It's an enchanting new world, and the sky is the limit.

But do you think IT is really going to help your government become efficient?

Information technology means speed. Any bureaucrat who cannot cope with that will have no place in our scheme of things. They will be marginalised and they now know that. So they are gearing up to face this revolution.

Do you think the fact that your older son-in-law Sidharth Hegde is a computer whiz will help you become technology savvy faster?

Everyone in my family is into computers in one way or another. My son-in-law is no exception. Of course, he is the one who first set up the cybercafé four or five years ago, when nobody even thought about it.

I learnt to love the Internet through his cybercafes. I would have a cup of coffee and then surf for a while. Initially, I used to concentrate on tennis, which is my passion, as you know. I would update myself on tennis trivia, on the playing styles of Wimbledon and other champions.

So cyber cafes and surfing are not new to you.

Certainly not. But surfing was just a hobby for me. Now I will be doing it with a different focus, as a duty.

You recently set up an IT task force. Do you have any specific goals for them?

They are all very big men in their own right. We have men like Azim Premji from Wipro, Narayana Murthy of Infosys... These are all very big names in the IT business. I don't have to tell them anything. They have to tell the state government and me what needs to be done, and we will just carry it out.

You mean, how to organise your administration better?

No, I mean how to develop the IT industry. It's a very big industry, and accounts for Rs 3,600 crores (Rs 36 billion) in software export. By next March, we expect that it will have gone up to Rs 5,000 crores (Rs 50 billion). That's big money. So they have a very big stake in the state. And we have a very big stake in these gentlemen, who are leaders in this field.

Bangalore, because of its bad infrastructure, high cost of living and overcrowding, is rapidly losing much of its IT industry to other places in India like Hyderabad or Bombay. Do you think making Bangalore a showcase for the state will help to stem this outflow?

One of the major issues that I now propose to tackle is that of the infrastructure of Bangalore. I will definitely take care of this problem quickly.

Do you think Chandrababu Naidu's success in this field over the past five years, and his re-election, have made many Indian political leaders like you feel that its good to be IT-savvy?

If someone can adapt himself to use whatever is available make administration sharper -- its reflexes sharper -- then one should go in for it. I certainly agree that Chandrababu Naidu is doing the right thing.

Are your ministers also following in your footsteps and wanting to get IT-savvy?

Let them. I would love them to do it.

Have you left the choice to them? Or have you only asked them to start becoming technology literate?

It depends on them. I hear now that Agriculture Minister Mallikarjun Kharge is interested, and is trying to educate himself in computer use. I think he should go at it with enthusiasm. I have told the education ministers already that they must depend upon IT to help them organise primary, secondary, higher and technical education properly. I want them all to take the IT path quickly.

Do you have time at all to surf now?

Yes, I still do sometimes, because I enjoy it immensely.

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