Get, Set, Go…Silicon Valley
The write-ups in the American Press, noticing the enthusiasm in techies in the Silicon Valley, CEOs like that of Apple and Facebook and over 40000 residents in and around the valley for the visit of Narendra Modi, said that in years to come and in archived chronicles of India’s External Affairs Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States in 2015 may be known better for his sortie to Silicon Valley.
He is the first Indian PM to zero in on the famed ‘techentrepot’, and only the fourth to visit California. Modi’s Bay Area outreach is threatening to overshadow New Delhi’s substantial engagements in Washington and New York that include business and political discussions between a raft of cabinet officials on both sides, culminating in a meeting between the Prime Minister and President Obama in the Big Apple on September 28. “While the Prime Minister’s scheduled meetings with the cream of Silicon Valley CEOs—including Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla’s Elon Musk—are stealing headlines, New Delhi and Washington are quietly cranking up their geo-political engagement.
“In fact, the annual strategic parleys between the two sides have now been recast as the “strategic and commercial dialogue” to meet the challenge of a $ 500-billion two-way trade target—a figure officials say will be consonant with Washington’s desire to see the rise of India, which it says is in US interest. Current US-India bilateral trade is only in the region of $ 100 billion.”
For this five-fold increase to happen, “new ways and mechanisms have to be found to deepen the engagement,” India’s ambassador to the US, Arun Kumar Singh said while briefing journalists on efforts to ramp up trade in a consistent way rather than having a transactional relationship.
Ahead of the PM’s arrival in New York on September 23, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Energy Minister Piyush Goyal and other officials will engage with their US counterparts John Kerry, Penny Pritzker and Ernest Moniz in Washington to broaden and deepen bilateral ties.
As an expression of US intent, Vice-president Joe Biden—a possible Presidential candidate—will himself address a US-India business meeting. And soon after his arrival in New York, Modi will meet the cream of American manufacturing giants—executives from 40 companies including GE, Caterpillar, Ford, IBM etc—and top venture capitalists, including honchos from BlackRock, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and others. The idea, officials say, is to energize the “Make In India” campaign and infuse it with capital and innovation.
“But all this is threatening to be overshadowed by the sheer allure of the digital and social media-savvy Prime Minister’s engagement with Silicon Valley elites.” Pandit Nehru’s San Francisco visit in 1949 predated the birth of Silicon Valley, and Morarji Desai (to Berkeley to receive an award in 1978) and Indira Gandhi (stopover in Los Angeles en route to Hawaii in 1982) made brief visits to California, but the sheer intensity of Modi’s 36 hours engagement with the world’s innovation central is already stealing headlines. Not that the area’s digerati need or read legacy media, but both San Jose Mercury and LA Times have already previewed the visit.
Another unintended victim of Modi’s Silicon Valley stoking: Pakistan, which has been left clamouring for attention on the sidelines of The UN General Assembly, which itself could end up getting a short shrift from New Delhi as it celebrates its 70th anniversary. Unless things change dramatically over the next week, Modi is expected to ignore Pakistani antics at the UN, leaving his External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to deal with it.
We also cannot resist asking where are the India-born US academics who were aggressively advising valley’s executives to not enter into deals with Modi? Possibly hiding from their mentors.