April 05, 2020
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Nandan Nilekani

One proposal which I’m considering is to issue every citizen a new mobile phone. The cell number becomes their UIN...

Nandan Nilekani
Illustration by Sorit
Nandan Nilekani

It’s unbelievable! Still, I knew all along that I would be part of Team Manmohan. Guess how? Well, there’s a little story here. Not many of you know that the great soothsayer, Nostradamus, visited Karnataka in 1536 and pronounced some Bharat-related predictions which were duly recorded on palm leaves by an anonymous scholar. This priceless manuscript was discovered a few years ago by a peon at the Oriental Research Institute (ORI), Mysore, who found it hidden in a back issue of Mad magazine. (Incidentally, it was at the very same institute that the revered scholar, Shamashastry, discovered Kautilya’s Arthashastra 100 years ago.)

That aside, among the many things the Nostradamus manuscript revealed was one entry about the Nilekani clan. To quote: “A man of trade will rise from among their midst and reach the mountain top (read laptop). He will be asked to deal in numbers. Unique will be his labour. And unique will be the man who shall invest him with power.” What a prediction! But then, Nostradamus, who predicted everything from fashion trends (men will wear low-hung trousers to show off underwear brands) to samosas being served in the White House, was no ordinary soothsayer. By the way, he also foresaw that the Rolling Stones would perform at Bangalore’s Palace Gardens.

Anyway, coming to my appointment, I wasn’t surprised when Manmohanji asked me if I could head the Unique Identification Authority. Of course, I agreed. But what enthused me was my brief—give a unique identification number (UIN) to each Indian resident. What a challenge! My wife, Rohini, was equally excited. “Imagine unique numbers from a unique man working for a unique PM.” (Why does she keep repeating Nostradamusji’s prediction?).

Now, I must confess I always loved numbers. As an infant, I used to twitch my thumb (little did my parents realise I was actually practising how to dial and send text messages on a mobile!). In Bishop Cotton school, one of my teachers couldn’t get over the fact that I first learnt to count backwards from 100 to zero (perhaps, the countdown concept was new to her). In college, I identified friends by their admission number. At Infy, I knew Narayana Murthy by his pan card. And I still identify my enemies by their license plates.

In Delhi, I will be playing my biggest numbers game ever. Imagine 1.5 billion unique numbers! One proposal which I’m considering is to issue every citizen a new mobile phone. The idea is the cell number becomes their UIN. Manmohanji approves of it since it will boost the economy, clog the networks, and keep everyone talking. The PM’s message: “68185432469” (which decoded reads “Let a billion mobiles bloom”) said it all. Now, watch out while I ring in the numbers!

(As imagined by Ajith Pillai)

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