Greener BeeGreen GadgetsPM Modi Heads to Silicon Valley Chasing a Digital Dream

He has 30 million fans on Facebook and tweets multiple times a day
but as Narendra Modi visits Silicon Valley this weekend, it is Indian
technology that will be centre-screen.

India’s social
media-addicted prime minister is looking to tap investors’ pockets on
the trip and win support from the Valley giants to burnish his Digital
India campaign.

“India is emerging as a hub of start-ups in a wide
range of areas and we aspire to take this further,” Modi wrote on
. “We want the world to see our innovation capabilities in the
start-up sector.”

America’s technology titans have rolled out the
welcome mat, with meetings at Apple, Facebook, green carmaker Tesla and
, while leading Indian entrepreneurs will present themselves to

Modi is set to fly to California after attending the UN
General Assembly in New York, where he is expected to meet US President
Barack Obama on the sidelines.

It is the first visit to the West
Coast by an Indian PM since 1982 – two years before the Apple Macintosh
went on sale – and comes at a bright moment for homegrown talent, with
India-born CEOs running Microsoft, Google and Adobe.

speculation has hit the domestic press over possible announcements, with
some suggesting Modi may seek a deal for Tesla’s solar batteries as
part of a renewable energy plan to ease power shortages.

seems to understand the role that technology can play in solving India’s
problems,” Vivek Wadhwa, a Stanford University fellow and technology
entrepreneur told AFP.

“What better way to accelerate the progress
than to build strong ties with the technology capital of the world:
Silicon Valley?” he said.

Digital India?
India is
simultaneously a technology leader and laggard, with the world’s fastest
growing start-up scene, according to software industry body Nasscom,
and armies of highly skilled IT workers in southern Hyderabad and

It also has almost a billion citizens still not online,
many in impoverished rural areas, posing an opportunity and a huge
challenge for the government and companies.

Hi-tech fan Modi has
appeared at rallies in hologram form, has his own smartphone app and in
March implored IT industry leaders to ask why India had not produced a

Yet his technological fervour has made little dent in the
country’s paper-heavy bureaucracy, with GE leader Jeffrey Immelt this
week lamenting that it requires “17 stamps on each document officially in the digital age”.

The government has repeatedly bungled its
handling of IT regulation, this week backtracking swiftly on a draft
encryption policy that sought to monitor emails or private chats on
WhatsApp after an outcry. Last month it overturned a ban on 857 porn
sites after widespread ridicule.

“It is too early to judge (the
progress of Digital India). So far it’s largely hype and wishful
thinking,” Stanford’s Wadhwa said.

Technology firms have also
suffered problems, with Google under investigation by India’s
competition regulator and a Facebook project,, criticised
for only allowing selective web access.

In addition, about 70
percent of Indian Internet users get online via a smartphone, many on
sluggish 2G connections, creating a unique challenge.

“Silicon Valley had better adapt and innovate for that market or lose,” an insider at one major US technology company said.

‘Investment flowing’
investors have paid relatively scant attention to Indian startups in
the past, but entrepreneurs on the ground say this is changing.

the prime minister has taken over there’s already a lot more investment
that has been flowing into the country,” said Prukalpa Sankar,
co-founder of SocialCops, which uses data to tackle social problems.

two-year-old company has already drawn funding from Google India’s
managing director and is taking part in the visit to gain exposure.

entrepreneurs are excited at being taken seriously perhaps for the
first time,” Geetika Dayal, executive director of The Indus
Entrepreneurs network in Delhi, told AFP.

Entrepreneurs from India
far outnumber all other immigrant groups at the helm of US startups,
data from the Kauffman Foundation shows, and a Modi-led reception for
the diaspora in San Jose has seen 45,000 people sign up.

Indians have long thrived in the Valley, observers point to a so-called
reverse brain drain as a steady flow of American-educated entrepreneurs
return home.

“There are opportunities here in India and they don’t want to miss the boat,” said Rajat Tandon, vice president of Nasscom.

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