Blend of excitement and disquiet over Modi California trip

September 04, 2015 09:48 am | Updated November 28, 2021 07:39 am IST - Washington

Brisbane: Prime Minister Narendra Modi poses for a photo with students during a visit to Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia on Friday. PTI Photo by Kamal Singh  (PTI11_14_2014_000086B)

Brisbane: Prime Minister Narendra Modi poses for a photo with students during a visit to Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia on Friday. PTI Photo by Kamal Singh (PTI11_14_2014_000086B)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Silicon Valley at the end of September seems to be evoking a response similar to what was witnessed when he landed in >New York last year -- a rapturous welcome at an overflowing arena, and a smaller but still substantive group underscoring human rights and civil liberties concerns.

The group organising the community reception for Mr. Modi at the SAP Centre at the heart of Silicon Valley, the Indo-American Community of the West Coast (IACWC), noted this week that preparations for >Mr. Modi’s visit were in full swing and the final phase of registration was concluded, with the total number of registrants surpassing 45,000.

This was “far greater than the capacity of the hall,” IACWC said, and it also significantly outshone the Madison Square Garden figure of 20,000.

Supplying a flavour of the excitement on the West Coast regarding the Prime Minister’s visit Naren Gupta, a venture‐capitalist who is also the Co‐Chairman of the IACWC said, “With Silicon Valley as the centre of innovation, we are all very excited about the possibilities that exist for India under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi [who] has outlined several key initiatives, including digital cities, alternate power and cleanliness that requite innovative approaches. We want to give back to our homeland… and we plan to engage in thoughtful dialog with the PM about best ways to make a difference.”

However, South Block’s plans for the widely anticipated visit have not been without the odd stumble, it would appear, including a back-down from initial suggestions that the agenda would include Mr. Modi delivering an address at Stanford University, which is also situated in the Bay Area.

In a statement to The Hindu a Stanford University official said, “We have no confirmation from India of a visit to Stanford by the Prime Minister. At this point in time, we do not believe Stanford is on his itinerary,” adding that the community reception at the SAP arena “is not related to Stanford.”

Similarly the past week has seen a widely circulated public letter from a group of U.S. academics including India specialist Wendy Doniger and other notables such as Anjali Arondekar, Arjun Appadurai, Sarada Balagopalan, Radhika Balakrishnan and Srimati Basu who expressed concern at Mr. Modi’s Digital India project as it apparently had a “lack of safeguards about privacy of information, and thus… potential for abuse.”

In the letter, which was sent to top technology companies including Google, Microsoft and Adobe, all led by CEOs of Indian origin Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella and Shantanu Narayen, respectively, the academics said they also wished to “remind Mr. Modi’s audiences of the powerful reasons for him being denied the right to enter the U.S. from 2005-2014, for there is still an active case in Indian courts that questions his role in the Gujarat violence of 2002 when 1,000 died.”

This criticism notwithstanding IACWC officials emphasised that Mr. Modi’s visit would mark the first visit to California by an Indian Head of State in 33 years and his focus on clean energy, and his drive to digitize India, made his presence in the hub of technology and innovation, “a natural step towards taking India on the path to overall development.”

After conducting several bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and addressing the UNGA itself during September 24 and 25 the Prime Minister is expected to attend the diaspora event on September 27, and then hold several “high-impact programmes and meetings” with top technology and other industry leaders before returning to New York on September 28 for a possible third summit encounter with U.S. President Barack Obama.

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