Modi eyes Silicon Valley for Digital India


Washington: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has already roped in Indian Americans on the East Coast and US big business to ‘Make in India’ last year, is now set to win over the Silicon Valley for his Digital India initiative.

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The first Indian leader to visit California in more than 30 years later this month, Modi will go to Facebook headquarters for a town hall style question answer session and visit other top tech companies like Google and Adobe Systems and electric carmaker Tesla.

As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced on Sunday about the September 27 town hall visit of PM Modi at the company’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters will “discuss how communities can work together to address social and economic challenges.”

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Modi, who has more Facebook fans than any politician except for Barack Obama, is the first Indian prime minister to visit the Bay Area since Morarji Desai picked up an award at University of California, Berkeley in 1978 and Indira Gandhi visited Los Angeles in 1982.

Besides meetings with Sundar Pichai and Shantanu Narayen, India born chief executives of Google and Adobe respectively, he is also expected to attend events with Indian American entrepreneurs and social investors.

At Tesla, more than the zero emission cars that it makes, Modi may be interested in its “Powerwall”, a home battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels, for India’s clean energy initiative.

Modi’s visit to the Bay Area, home to a large number of Indian techies, is arranged to win support for his “Digital India,” initiative that aims to expand Internet access, boost electronics manufacturing and develop apps to improve the delivery of government services.

“The visit allows Modi to build relationships with tech firms that want to invest in India, while also fostering support from the Bay Area’s influential Indian-American community,” Venktesh Shukla, president of the Silicon Valley branch of non-profit organization TiE, also known as The Indus Entrepreneurs, told the San Jose Mercury News.

For Modi, “it’s a very well thought effort to capitalise on the connection he has with the diaspora and involve them at a point in time when India is perceived to be on a positive track in terms of governance,” Subimal Bhattacharjee, a cyberspace policy analyst and former India head of General Dynamics, the US defence contractor, told the Los Angeles Times.

Modi, who last year got a rock star like reception when he gave a speech at New York’s Madison Square Garden, is expected to do it again on Sep 27 in San Jose.

An Indian-American group organizing a community reception for Modi at the 19,000-seat SAP Centre says that more than 45,000 people have registered for free passes.

After the San Jose event, Modi flies back to New York for a summit meeting with US President Barack Obama on Sep 28.

The Modi-Obama meeting in New York would cap a week long high level India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in Washington DC.