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Will Rajeev Chandrasekhar Upset Shashi Tharoor?

Last updated on: April 22, 2024 15:06 IST
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I hope those who underestimate Rajeev Chandrasekhar will be proved wrong in this fight for Thiruvananthapuram's future, notes Rajeev Srinivasan.

IMAGE: Rajeev Chandrashekhar, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Thiruvananthapuram. Photograph: Kind courtesy Rajeev Chandrashekhar/X

The Lok Sabha contest in Thiruvananthapuram constituency between Shashi Tharoor of the Congress and Rajeev Chandrasekhar of the BJP is turning out to be one of the more intriguing in the country.

On the one hand, I like Shashi and the patrician prestige he brings; on the other hand, I wonder what a Rajeev, a fellow-Silicon-Valley-returned-techie, and scrappy businessman, can do for development.

I have written earlier about my personal dilemma about the stalwart contestants; and also about the real differences the manifestos (external link) of the two parties might make.

Now there is an intriguing book by Ambassador T P Sreenivasan in Malayalam: An authorised biography (external link) titled Rajeev Chandrasekhar: A Success Story (In Malayalam, Rajeev Chandrasekhar: Oru Vijayagatha, published by Folio Books).

What comes across is the following: There was serendipity; but then a lot of hard work in building up perhaps India's first unicorn, BPL Cellular, from scratch. And then his venture capital and investment firm, Jupiter Capital, and later, his political career.

IMAGE: National Democratic Alliance workers with a 10.5 feet caricature of BJP candidate Rajeev Chandrasekhar in Thiruvananthapuram, April 21, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The book shows how Rajeev is in a way the antithesis of the Congress manifesto:

  • Globalist vs Nationalist: Rajeev abandoned his US Green Card to return to India.
  • Zero-sum game with vote-banks (jitni abadi utna haq): Rajeev instead managed to grow the pie instead of having people fight over a shrinking pie.
  • Redistributive (and retributive) 'justice': Rajeev has a history of creating wealth, and jobs, instead of seeking to take your wealth away and give it to others.
  • Freebies like Rs 1 lakh per woman: Rajeev talks about hard work, not doles

I remember Rajeev saying somewhere that people always underestimated him; much to their chagrin later. And that many things happened to him through phone calls: His job offer with Intel, his inability to reschedule his Green Card appointment, the suggestion that he pursue a Rajya Sabha seat, and his appointment as a minister.

No wonder then that telephony looms large in his life. His saga with the cellular telephony business, amply demonstrates that entrepreneurship is glamorous only when you have succeeded: the hard work is indeed drudgery. An Intel chip engineer, he was basically a babe-in-the-woods in the dog-eat-dog world of Indian politics and business.

With grasping politicians like Sukh Ram (later jailed for corruption) in the fray, it was always difficult for startups. In building up BPL Cellular, Rajeev had first-hand experience of how difficult it is for entrepreneurs to make progress in the Indian setup: not only technical challenges, competition, and the partnership ecosystem, but ubiquitous grand and petty corruption.

This makes the reader hopeful that, having been in the shoes of a hapless entrepreneur facing the might of the dirigiste (and thieving) State, Rajeev will be sensitive to those looking to build new businesses, especially in high technology, the key for India's leapfrog into a pole position.

The telecom story continued to be significant for Rajeev after he left the industry, selling BPL Cellular and becoming a Rajya Sabha MP. He was involved in bringing to light the 2G telecom scam, in which A Raja is believed to have cost the exchequer an enormous amount by way of inappropriate processes, although Kapil Sibal did claim that there was 'zero loss'.

The book also talks about Rajeev's MP role in a variety of other areas: Supporting the Armed Forces (his father was an Indian Air Force pilot, in whose honor he donated to the IAF a Dakota DC-3 as an antique), Covid-related donation of equipment, environmental issues such as water bodies in Bangalore, recouping large acreage of encroached land, and so on.

Once he became a minister of state in the ministry of electronics and information technology and skill development and entrepreneurship in the BJP government, Rajeev has been active in high technology. This is critical because of the churn in geo-economics: The chance for India to lead in the age of Artificial Intelligence, Semiconductors, Quantum Computing, Crypto, etc.

As a technologist myself, I am alarmed at the rate certain technologies are advancing, and their potential for harm. For instance, generative AI chatbots like chatGPT, Gemini, etc can lead to enormous harm: They enable the creation of fake news on the one hand. On the other, there is a likelihood that they will either 'digest' Indian traditional knowledge or render it irrelevant. We are in a new Knowledge War (external link).

This is the area where Rajeev can help most: Just like aerospace competency made both Silicon Valley (NASA Ames and Moffett Field) and Bangalore (HAL, ISRO) successful, there is the chance that an aerospace corridor between ISRO's Thumba/Valiyamala in Thiruvananthapuram, Mahendragiri and the new launch facility at Kulasekharapatnam in nearby Tamil Nadu can be the nucleus of tremendous development in the area.

IMAGE: Rajeev Chandrasekhar visits a fish market in Kovalam, April 19, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

In addition to the logistics possibilities arising from Thiruvananthapuram's Vizhinjam port, Rajeev Chandrasekhar's efforts in technology development can make a large difference to the average local voter.

Once again, I hope those who underestimate Rajeev will be proved wrong in this fight for Thiruvananthapuram's future.

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