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PM Modi dazzles Silicon Valley

ALL CHARISMA: "Prime Minister Narendra Modi's show at the packed stadium at the SAP Centre in San Jose was spectacular." Picture shows the Prime Minister before his address to the Indian community at the SAP Centre in California.

ALL CHARISMA: "Prime Minister Narendra Modi's show at the packed stadium at the SAP Centre in San Jose was spectacular." Picture shows the Prime Minister before his address to the Indian community at the SAP Centre in California.  

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The U.S. recognises that India is the last unconquered digital market. If Digital India succeeds, there will be a new model to reach the rest of the unconnected world

I was in New York and California just before >Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. I have travelled often to the U.S. but never before has there been such excitement about any Indian leader’s visit as now. Both Americans and Indians were animatedly discussing the visit, there was an air of expectancy, and overall the mood about India was positive after a very long time. Of course, I am unaware about the American response to Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit many decades ago, but this visit of Mr. Modi was certainly special.

Mr. Modi made a splash in New York; even the taxi drivers were discussing his visit. Business leaders queued up for meetings and the Indian media covered the visit extensively. Well-known Indian television anchors were there, building up the excitement both in the U.S. and back home in India. Of course, Leftist academics and malcontents, both Indian and American, made their usual pitch, with vague accusations against Digital India. This time around, there was a strong counter from the right-of-centre group, and an uneasy calm prevailed in the war of words. The techies in Silicon Valley ignored the accusations, making it a non-event.

Rapturous welcome

T. V. Mohandas Pai
But the Prime Minister’s visit to Silicon Valley was the icing on the cake. There was a rapturous welcome from the largely techie crowd, both American and Indian. Many volunteers had been working hard for the visit, for they saw in Mr. Modi an answer to their long-standing prayer for a strong Indian leader who the world would respect. On the East Coast, the Pope made waves; on the West Coast, where technology is God, Prime Minister Modi rode the waves.

Microsoft’s Satya Nadella announced many initiatives, including using the white spaces in TV broadcasting to reach India’s six lakh villages, as well as more investments. He also announced Microsoft’s cloud services from data centres in India, a first from a multinational corporation. This will, one hopes, lead to a privacy law in India and the storage of private data here, protecting us from the prying eyes of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

Facebook clearly stole the >show with Mark Zuckerberg’s Town Hall meeting at the social media giant’s campus. It was an emotional show, with Mr. Modi breaking down when he spoke of the travails and sacrifices of his mother as she struggled to provide for the family. Many in the audience had tears in their eyes, as they witnessed India’s strongman holding back his tears, exposing his soft and human side to the world. Of course, the opposition back home made fun of his emotions, further losing the votes of the many Indian viewers who saw the event on television. Prime Minister Modi’s support base increased further.



On the East Coast, the Pope made waves; on the West Coast, where technology is God, Prime Minister Modi rode the waves.

Google showed off its technology to a tech-savvy leader, proudly led by Indian-born Sundar Pichai. The power of Google Earth was displayed, followed by a private session to which media had no access, and the Karl Mehta-led ‘Code for India’ hackathon, which built apps for India, stayed up the whole night. Prime Minister Modi was happy that everything was building up for his big show. Mr. Pichai announced Google’s adoption of 500 railway stations for high-speed, HD streaming Wifi, which will set a new standard for wireless in India and show up the pathetic service provided by Indian telcos.

Crowd connect

The night show in the 18,000-seater, packed stadium at the SAP Centre in San Jose was spectacular. The razzmatazz of the cultural shows whipped up emotions and then ‘the man’ arrived. He mesmerised the crowd, who roared in approval, telling us back here how much they loved him. He spoke to his audiences in India too, further increasing his approval ratings. No political leader in the recent past, globally, has matched Mr. Modi’s Valley visit and masterful performance.

Why was there this great interest in Mr. Modi in the Valley? Well, Americans, Indians, and techies saw in him a tech-savvy leader who was pro-business, decisive, articulate, charismatic and who exuded strength. They recognised that India was the last great, unconquered digital market after China and Prime Minister Modi’s Digital India project could empower 1.25 billion people in India digitally. And if this succeeded, there would be a new model to reach the three billion people across the world who are left out of the digital web in a low-cost manner.

They all wanted a piece of the action. So, >Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Apple, who want to own the whole world digitally, saw in Mr. Modi the answer to their dreams. The India brand was at an all-time high, with the world slowly regaining its faith in India after the decline during the dying years of the United Progressive Alliance.

The techies were ecstatic, their stock was up, their prayers of a strong India likely to be answered. They could finally boast among Americans of a fast-growing, tech-strong economy, led by a leader who could finally make the future happen in India.

Why are Indians in India ecstatic about the visit? Well, the Indian brand has gone up tremendously in the U.S., and globally. Indians see in Mr. Modi a leader who can bring in growth and development, digitally empower every Indian, increase tech investment massively, improve the ease of doing business, reduce corruption, and get the dollars flowing in again — meaning more jobs and more investments soon.

Mr. Modi has seen the huge innovation engine in the Valley, the great start-up culture, the good infrastructure, the dynamic, ‘can-do’, optimistic, and liberal spirit and the impact that great universities can have on the economy. If he can use his experience to liberate Indian universities from the clutches of bureaucrats and regulators, and set them free to innovate, research and incubate great start-ups, India would certainly have benefited greatly from his visit.

Prime Minister Modi and Silicon Valley could change India forever, if he is able to deliver on his promise.

(T. V. Mohandas Pai, former director of Infosys, is head of Aarin Capital Partners, and Chairman of Manipal Global Education Services.)

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 5:18:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/pm-modi-dazzles-silicon-valley/article7712673.ece

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