Sometimes, visionaries pass away without much of a fuss. Narasimaiah Seshagiri died on Sunday, May 26, and his passing received only brief mentions in newspapers. Few in the new generation would know of his role in India’s emergence as an information technology power.
While the return of NR Narayana Murthy as executive chairman of Infosys is being celebrated big-time, it is possible to add that Seshagiri was no less a figure in his own way.
The scientist, who died aged 73, was a recipient of the Padma Bhushan who founded and headed as director-general the National Informatics Centre that prepared India for e-governance long before the term became currency. I once met him at the Planning Commission, and he was speaking of his coaching Rajiv Gandhi on the use of computers. While Rajiv’s love of technology-driven progress is well known, it must be remembered that apart from Sam Pitroda, who is now chairman of the National Knowledge Commission, Seshagiri also played a role in shaping his mind and delivering work on the ground.
The NIC was linking up every district of the country through a single computer network at a time when personal computers were just coming into the market even in the United States.
I first really heard of the potential of the Internet in a speech by Seshagiri at the India International Centre in 1994. I think I last met him on the night of December 31, 1999. This was a bizarre period, when the US had issued travel advisories to its citizens, saying Indian computers could face the Year 2000 bug!
While India was eagerly following the return of passengers of the hijacked IC914 aircraft, Seshagiri and his aides sat at the NIC headquarters, trying to convince the world that the Y2K bug will not hit Indian computers. It did not.
Like the NIC he founded in 1975, Seshagiri was a backbone for India’s IT revolution.