For a while there late this summer, it looked like India\u2019s laptop minister might crash.We\u2019re talking about N. Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh. Now serving his second four-year term as this state\u2019s top elected official (a role somewhat similar to that of a U.S. governor), Naidu has staked his career\u2014and his state\u2019s future\u2014on the promise of IT. He was the first Indian politician to "discover" the IT industry, if you will, and when he was first elected in 1995, he came to office with a penchant for PowerPoint presentations. Hence, the nickname laptop minister, which has stuck to Naidu as tightly as he\u2019s stuck to his agenda of promoting IT as a means of eradicating poverty, creating new jobs and elevating India from its "developing nation" status. Under Naidu\u2019s leadership, Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, has emerged as a global IT hotspot. When Bill Gates looked outside the United States to build Microsoft\u2019s first offshore development center, he built it in Hyderabad.When President Bill Clinton visited India this year and wanted to talk technology, he met with Naidu, the self-proclaimed CEO of Cyberabad.And yet his critics argue: What good was IT last August when Andhra Pradesh was hit with its worst monsoon rains in 50 years? Twenty-four centimeters of rain fell in 24 hours, smashing Hyderabad with a deadly flood that killed 142 people. To his credit, Naidu was at the forefront of the flood relief effort, and he didn\u2019t duck any of the questions about why his vaunted IT didn\u2019t do a better job forecasting the weather. Still, the lingering image of that tragedy is a newspaper editorial cartoon that depicts Naidu and his laptop alone in a lifeboat, adrift in a city called Hydrobad.Just days after the flood waters receded, Naidu was swamped with the tide of political discontent over his recent power tariff increase. Emotions erupted into an Aug. 28 riot that injured 180 people and killed four. Again, Naidu\u2019s IT agenda was a hot topic in the post-riot discourse. Not only was Naidu forced to defend his public policy, he also had to protect himself from the threat of suicide squads that supposedly were gunning for him.When CIO caught up with Naidu in mid-September, it was within the fortified walls of the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly Building in Hyderabad, where the chief minister was surrounded by armed guards, plainclothes security and bomb-sniffing dogs. But not even those confines, nor the challenges that necessitated them, were enough to shake Naidu\u2019s faith in IT as the vehicle to free India from the tyranny of poverty. "IT cannot do everything," Naidu says in his thick, Telugu accent, the native dialect for Andhra Pradesh. "IT can help eradicate poverty, and people are saying, \u2019Why can\u2019t we do it now?\u2019 But that is impossible. Nations are built over a period of time. For everything, there is a gestation period."Ahead of His TimeNaidu, 50, discovered IT in 1985, when, as the newly appointed general secretary of the state\u2019s Telugu Desam party, he got his first PC and set about reorganizing the business of public policy. As he rose through party ranks, Naidu became (continued on Page 164) (continued from Page 160) known for both his computer-generated presentations and his pursuit of streamlined government processes through IT.Already dubbed "laptop minister" by the time he was elected chief minister in 1995, Naidu quickly learned just how meager the state government\u2019s general IT awareness was. For example, soon after taking office, Naidu asked an assistant whether his office was equipped for PowerPoint. "We\u2019ll check," he was told. That staffer soon returned and announced, "You have three PowerPoints in your office." Puzzled by the answer, Naidu pushed for clarification. "See?" the staffer said, pointing to the office\u2019s three electrical outlets. "Three power points."Around that same time, Naidu inquired how many PCs were in the state. The answer: 80,000. Realizing that number had to be off by more than a few thousand, Naidu probed. It\u2019s true, he was told. Andhra Pradesh really did have 80,000 PCs\u2014police constables, that is.Obviously, much has changed since 1995. Naidu is surrounded by advisers and secretaries who understand and support his mission. As a result, Andhra Pradesh today is a model of Indian e-government initiatives (see "Takin\u2019 It to the Streets," Page 162), and Hyderabad has become home to dozens of IT businesses, schools and software development centers. Naidu has built a reputation for being business-friendly, promoting new incentives (free land, permits and tax breaks) for IT businesses that settle in Andhra Pradesh. Through healthy doses of policy making and self-promotion, Naidu has come to personify his entire nation\u2019s development as an IT superpower. And he\u2019s not shy about taking credit. "I have brought some psychological change [to India]," Naidu says. "Everybody in India thought, \u2019We cannot [succeed in IT]. We\u2019re not America; we\u2019re not Singapore.\u2019 We have changed that climate. Now everybody thinks we can do it." Naidu is quick to point out that he was the only politician promoting IT five years ago, and he\u2019s quicker to point out that all Indian politicians are talking tech today. "When I initially began to focus on IT, many people thought I was pursuing an elitist agenda," Naidu says. "Now everyone realizes the importance of IT for India\u2019s future."Of course, not all Indians are happy with Naidu. Beyond the normal political opponents (and in India\u2019s multiparty democracy, elected officials have plenty of those), Naidu is dogged by detractors who resent his prominence and minimize his efforts. "In a sense, what Naidu did was find a market niche that was unoccupied by other politicians," says D. Prakash, IT secretary for the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu. "He found IT was the flavor of the month, and he saw economic conditions where he could do something [with IT]." Of Naidu\u2019s efforts to change government\u2019s rules and provide special incentives solely to IT businesses, Prakash chooses his words carefully. "Some people can argue he was being entrepreneurial," Prakash says. "Others can argue it was ridiculous."National AmbitionsFrankly, Naidu doesn\u2019t much care what other states have to say. He\u2019s focused on bigger and better things\u2014perhaps with an eye toward running for national office at the end of his term in 2004. Increasingly, Naidu is focused on IT issues of national importance. As cochairman of the country\u2019s National IT Task Force, he was influential in the recent decision to deregulate telecommunications, and his has been one of the loudest voices calling for bringing Internet connectivity and IT services to India\u2019s remote villages. Although PCs are expensive and telephone lines are unreliable at best in India, Naidu points out that the country has 37 million cable TV subscribers who would benefit from some version of WebTV. "Distance learning, telemedicine, e-government and e-commerce are all areas that can have tremendous impact on the lives of ordinary villagers," Naidu says. "A farmer in a village can improve his earnings through accurate information on market prices, weather conditions and farming practices. The quality of education available to a villager can undergo a sea of change with access to educational content from the best schools, colleges and universities in the world."And yet the average Indian villager doesn\u2019t necessarily share Naidu\u2019s perspective on the life-changing potential of IT. Changing this attitude is Naidu\u2019s current mission. That\u2019s why he\u2019s concentrating on new e-government initiatives in Hyderabad, on IT job creation throughout Andhra Pradesh and on improving the entire national telecommunications infrastructure. "I am confident that if we do these things, if people get a taste of [IT services], then they will want to go further, further, further," Naidu says. "Everybody works sometimes for pride, but how to get that pride\u2014how to motivate\u2014that is the stage we are entering."