India's N. Chandrababu Naidu

As chief minister of India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu is convinced that computers can transform his impoverished realm. So when Microsoft Corp. Chairman William H. Gates III visited India last year, Naidu demanded--and got--an exclusive audience with him. Their allotted 15 minutes in the U.S. ambassador's study stretched into 45 as Naidu poured out his vision of the role information technology could play in government, and his dream of seeing his capital city, Hyderabad, as a global hub for IT. Just one year later, in March, Microsoft announced it would set up a research and development center in Hyderabad by the end of this year.

Naidu's drive has helped transform Hyderabad from a mere exporter of inexpensive programmers into one of India's most attractive destinations for new investment in software development. At the center of Naidu's strategy is HITECH city, a 175-acre zone of high-quality office space, telecommunications links, and recreational facilities now under construction in Hyderabad. Naidu hopes foreign and domestic software writers will move there in droves.

Companies such as IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle already are joining another of Naidu's projects: an Indian Institute of Information Technology, which will offer training programs intended to make sure the workforce in Andhra Pradesh is able to keep pace with industry demands.

Many Indians and foreign investors see the 48-year-old sandal-shod minister as a model of the kind of modernizing administrator India needs. Instead of focusing on short-term political prospects, he dreams of transforming his state into a magnet for investment and raising the living standards of its residents. "I want to make Andhra Pradesh a role model for the country," says Naidu. "I want it to compete with foreign countries."

Naidu's vision for the state of Andhra Pradesh speaks of an India that has a keen ambition to prosper, despite its many problems.

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