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Why Bangalore Doesn’t Need Silicon Valley

Bangalore, however, has been attracting Americans and Europeans to start companies in India for Indians. And this phenomenon is hardly new

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Visitors to Bangalore, India, these days can see street art, have beer at local microbreweries or take an Uber ride to a distant neighborhood to meet with venture capitalists about a recent startup that grabbed their attention.

Gone are the days of a city dominated by call centers and American visa seekers.

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“There’s an artisanal hot dog place there,” Sean Blagsvedt, founder of online job portal Babajob, said of a nearby neighborhood, speaking over his plate of salmon sashimi. “You have a bazillion 20-something tech people who don’t like to cook and suddenly have a [large amount] of money to start paying for interesting food. … You saw the same things in San Francisco.”

Babajob employees take notes on a window overlooking a neighborhood in downtown Bangalore. (E. Sarai/VOA)

Babajob employees take notes on a window overlooking a neighborhood in downtown Bangalore.

A wide variety of dining options, nightlife and other activities has blossomed alongside the tech industry in “India’s Silicon Valley.”

Bangalore was rated the most dynamic city in the world, two spots ahead of California’s Silicon Valley — which isn’t a city but was ranked as one — by the JLL City Momentum Index this year. The index looks at more than 100 cities around the world, rated by their “ability to embrace technological change, absorb rapid population growth and strengthen global connectivity.”

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Not looking abroad

Call centers and outsourced IT workers still make up a part of Bangalore, but a vibrant crowd of modern, enthusiastic, tech-minded people has grown to dominate the city — and for most of them, the promise of “a better life” abroad is not on their radar.

Bangalore, however, has been attracting Americans and Europeans to start companies in India for Indians. And this phenomenon is hardly new.

Sean Blagsvedt, an American, moved to Bangalore over 10 years ago and started his own company. (E. Sarai/VOA)

Sean Blagsvedt, an American, moved to Bangalore over 10 years ago and started his own company. (E. Sarai/VOA)

Blagsvedt, who is also Babajob’s CEO, moved to Bangalore from his hometown of Seattle, Washington, when he was 28 to work with Microsoft. Although Blagsvedt enjoyed his work, he felt compelled to work more directly with Indians, for Indians.

“I always had this nagging thing, like, am I doing enough to address the inequity that I saw, am I doing enough to make the best use of my skills, to try to do something important to make a difference?” he said.

After reading a study that said to get out of poverty, one needed to either change jobs or start a successful business, Blagsvedt was inspired to change how people found those positions.

“If only we could find a way to digitize all the jobs, make it accessible to people who don’t use computers, and digitize the social network, then we might be able to catalyze the escape from poverty for a lot of people,” he said.

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Twelve years, a successful company and a family later, Blagsvedt is “more Bangalorean than me!” according to an Indian on his team, Akshay Chaturvedi.

FILE - Visitors crowd at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Bangalore, India, Sept. 10, 2015.

FILE – Visitors crowd at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Bangalore, India, Sept. 10, 2015.

In the past 10 years, however, it’s not just Americans and Europeans with humanitarian motivations who are starting companies in Bangalore.

Indians, even those who paid for American educations and planned to pay off those debts with American jobs, have seen the increasing opportunity back home.

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‘A lot of vibrancy’

“[There is] a lot of young talent trying to build solutions that are uniquely India on almost every sector, whether that’s health services, education, digital media, even financial inclusion,” said Vani Kola, a venture capitalist who has been in Bangalore for 10 years after working in Silicon Valley. “I see a lot of vibrancy with respect to opportunity for building unique companies with unique solutions for India.”

And Indians have taken advantage of that opportunity. The number of startups in Bangalore rivals those in the top tech cities around the world. In 2015, San Francisco research firm Compass rated Bangalore as the second fastest-growing startup ecosystem in the world, and it was the only Asian city besides Singapore to place in the top 20 startup ecosystems.

Akshay Chaturvedi, who recently began his own startup, checks in to a communal office space on an iPad. (E. Sarai/VOA)

Akshay Chaturvedi, who recently began his own startup, checks in to a communal office space on an iPad. (E. Sarai/VOA)

Chaturvedi is one such person who, after completing a fellowship in the United States, returned to India, specifically Bangalore, to join the world of unique Indian startups.

“I can’t imagine my life without startups,” Chaturvedi told VOA. “Everything I do — I’m touched by a startup at least 20 times a day. Every single dinner I order by some food tech startup.”

In the days after we spoke with him at Babajob, Chaturvedi quit to work on his own startup — Leverage, an online platform for higher education services.

Although the question of the future of H1-B visas, a visa most often granted to IT workers from India, is on the minds of American companies that employ them, Bangalore seems less concerned.

“When students studied there, I said, ‘Look, there’s a lot of opportunity calling in India — can’t I do something here?’ That, I think, was a trend that was already there for the last few years,” Chaturvedi said. “And now [the] Indian economy seems to be strong and the opportunity from startups seems very viable in India.”

FILE - Commuters drive past the power transmission towers installed inside the International Tech Park, which houses several information technology companies in Bangalore, India, Sept. 26, 2015.

FILE – Commuters drive past the power transmission towers installed inside the International Tech Park, which houses several information technology companies in Bangalore, India, Sept. 26, 2015.

Fewer seeking H1-Bs

Blagsvedt holds a stronger opinion, saying that H1-B visas are exploitative, and that the rise of opportunity in Bangalore has limited the number of people desperate for those options.

“They haven’t raised that minimum salary in 22 years,” Blagsvedt said. “Now you tell me where you can hire a five-year programmer in Silicon Valley for $65,000 [a year]. You just can’t. And what does that guy have as recourse? If he doesn’t like the job, his visa is sponsored fully … he can’t complain, he can’t even switch jobs!”

Blagsvedt and Chaturvedi both said that in the Bangalore startup ecosystem, they had heard no talk, or worry, about the proposed changes to the U.S. visa program.

Chaturvedi did admit, however, that any threats to the H1-B program “would have been far scarier 10 years back.”

In today’s Bangalore, any widespread panic that Silicon Valley might imagine simply hasn’t taken hold. (VOA)

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India China’s Fight Over the Doklam Plateau Explained

Doklam or Donglang, is a disputed area between China and Bhutan located near their tri-junction with India

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picture from- indiaopines.com

By Ruchika Verma

  • India and China have an old history of disputes
  • This time, the dispute is regarding the Dokplam Plateau
  • The area is of strategic importance for both the nations

Disputes between India and China are not at all uncommon. The rivalry between the two nations is famous. There have been several disputes between the two on the India-China border in past, and there seems to be no stopping for these disputes in the present or future, for that matter.

India and China have a n old history of repeated disputes. zeenews.india.com
India and China have an old history of repeated disputes. zeenews.india.com

In June 2017, the world witnessed yet another dispute arising between India and China. This time the dispute was about China building a road extending to Doklam Plateau, which both nations have been fighting over for years now.

Also Read: China is likely to get involved if India disrupts $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

History of the dispute 

Doklam or Donglang (in Chinese), is a disputed area between China and Bhutan located near their tri-junction with India. India doesn’t directly claim the area but supports Bhutan’s claims on it.

India fits into the picture, as this plateau is an important area for India. Not only is Bhutan one of the biggest allies of India; China gaining access over the Doklam Plateau will also endanger India’s borders, making them vulnerable to attacks.

Dopkam plateau is an important area near India, China and Bhutan's borders.
Dopkam plateau is an important area near India, China and Bhutan’s borders.

Apart from the hostile history of the two nations, the Doklam Plateau is also important for India to maintain its control over a land corridor that connects to its remote northeastern States. China building a road through Doklam surely threatens that control.

A complete timeline of what happened in the recent Doklam Standoff 

On 16 June 2017, Chinese troops with construction vehicles and excavators began extending an existing road southward on the Doklam plateau, near India’s border. It was Bhutan which raised the alarm for India.

On 18 June 2017, India responded by sending around 270 Indian troops, with weapons and two bulldozers to evict the Chinese troops from Doklam.

On 29 June 2017, Bhutan protested against the construction of a road in the disputed territory.  According to the Bhutanese government, China attempted to extend a road in an area which is shared both Bhutan and India, along with China.

Between 30 June 2017 and 5 July 2017, China released multiple statements justifying their claim over the Doklam plateau. They cited reasons as to why the Doklam standoff wasn’t really needed. And how China has not intruded into India’s territory to incite the standoff.

On 19th July 2017, China asked India again to withdraw its troops from the Doklam. On 24th July 2017,  Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in his statement, asked India to withdraw and behave themselves to maintain peace.

India and China seem to never agree when it comes to their borders. BBC
India and China seem to never agree when it comes to their borders. BBC

Also Read: Why India Must Counter China’s High-Altitude Land Grab?

What followed till 16th August 2017 was China constantly alleging India of trying to create trouble. They accused India of trying to disturb the peace and not withdrawing the troops, even after repeated reminders. They also accused India of bullying.

India, however, kept quiet during the whole fiasco, only releasing a statement regarding their stand and position at the Doklam standoff.

On 28 August 2017, India and China finally announced that they had agreed to pull their troops back from the Doklam standoff. The withdrawal was completed on that very day.

On 7 September 2017, many media reports claimed that both nation’s troops have not left the site completely. They were still patrolling the area, simply having moved 150 meters away from their previous position.

On 9 October 2017, China announced that it is ready to maintain peace with India at the frontiers. India reacted in affirmative, the peace was established when Indian Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman’s visited Nathu La.

The issue between the two nations may rise again. Pixabay
The issue between the two nations may rise again. Pixabay

The Doklam issue, for now, is resolved. However, given the history of disputes between India and China, it won’t be a surprise if the issue resurfaces again in near future.