Modi brings ‘Digital India’ to Silicon Valley

Modi brings ‘Digital India’ to Silicon Valley

Narendra Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit America’s West Coast in over 30 years. Modi is courting American business giants to help empower his Digital India dreams, yet criticism from some corners remains.

One of the key aims for President Narendra Modi is the promotion of his pet project “Digital India,” the government’s ambitious plan to digitally integrate its departments and citizens for electronic interaction, and reduce the bureaucracy and red-tape associated with paper records.

The PM will also be seeking partners who can hasten the implementations of his ambitious plans for Digital India.

Modi to meet American business giants

Technology companies will be looking at this visit as their window to access the next “500 million” customers, whereas India hopes that Modi will spread awareness about Indian startups and bring back promises of future investments.

Another set of stakeholders will be U.S-based Indians, especially those associated with The Indo American Community of the West Coast, as they eagerly look forward to receiving the PM. Narendra Modi is adored by a majority of the Indian community overseas, as is visible from the fabulous receptions he has received in his business trips to meet world leaders, pitch the India growth story, and solicit FDI.

Modi’s first touchdown will be in New York, meeting CEOs of 40+ firms such as Lockheed Martin, Johnson & Johnson, Ford Motor Company, IBM, and PepsiCo, before continuing to Silicon Valley on September 27th. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, Tesla’s Elon Musk, and Google’s Sundar Pichai will play host to the Indian Prime Minister on his two day visit to California.

Leveraging U.S tech for Digital India

Microsoft will aim to promote its White-Fi technology, which can provide large scale free or low-cost WiFi connectivity to millions of rural Indian citizens by utilizing unused portions of the television spectrum. For PM Modi, given his reputation as a technophile and his vision of connecting all of India over the internet, this could be the technology he needs to set Digital India into action.

Moreover, given the current controversies in India over state elections, meat bans, and uprisings over reservations for the Patel community, a major announcement on implementing ‘Digital India’ could be just the thing the government needs to keep critics at bay.

One of the most significant meetings lined up is with Apple CEO Tim Cook, in which PM Modi is expected to pitch India as a manufacturing hub for the juggernaut that is Apple. Given the huge volumes of its devices sold annually, this contract could be one sweet apple for the “Make in India” platform.

Renewable energy has been a focus area for Modi since he began his tenure in 2014. It is quite likely that his meeting with Tesla’s Elon Musk will revolve around the firm’s new “Powerwall” batteries, which could effectively lower the cost and increase the feasibility of enabling Modi’s vision of 100 Gigawatts of solar energy by 2022, almost a third of India’s current electricity generation capacity.

Modi will also address entrepreneurs, highlighting the strength of the Indian startup ecosystem with specific examples of 30 startups in different sectors. “Silicon Valley illustrates the stark difference between what Indians can accomplish outside India versus inside,” says Beerud Sheth, co-founder and CEO of enterprise messaging app startup Teamchat.

Indian entrepreneurs are hoping that this visit will help usher in new pro-business government policies on similar lines as those in the US. These measures could pave the way for the future Satya Nadellas and Sundar Pichais to work their magic in India instead of having to emigrate to the U.S in pursuit of opportunities.

Concerns over Digital India’s dark side

A set of US academics – mostly of Indian origin – have brought forward a petition expressing their concerns over the privacy encroachment risks inherent in the Digital India initiative.

However, this petition makes bold claims such as the “near certainty that such digital systems will be used to enhance surveillance and repress the constitutionally protected rights of citizens,” a statement which has led to claims of hyperbole.

Most silicon valley companies seem to be disregarding this “warning of doomsday,” with CEOs of the largest tech firms announcing their personal invitation to PM Modi. There is also a hint of protest from some factions of the Patel community, the largest group of Indians residing overseas, over the reservation system in India. However, given the minor size of these protests, they are not expected to cause much alarm.

Modi returns to New York on September 29th to meet President Obama for the third time in 12 months to continue dialogue over various issues including trade, economy, and India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

About Author

Sagar Sambrani

Sagar Sambrani is an FX & Fixed Income Trader at a global investment bank and has worked across multiple countries in Asia. He was the Gold Medalist in the Masters in Management programme from IIM Calcutta & has also received a Bachelors in Technology degree from IIT Bombay, India.