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Modi’s Silicon Valley swing: Who is wooing who?

New York: It is being called Narendra Modi’s Silicon Valley swing, a two-day visit to California where most of the global tech giants have their base, away from his more political agenda in New York. But what is still not clear is whether it is Modi wooing the tech companies or the other way round?

For Modi, getting a stamp of approval for his Digital India efforts, from the CEOs of the largest tech firms in the world, will be much more than just brownie points. Their support in technology and resources could end up being the big push that his pet project needs. And there are already signs that this is happening on the ground.

Facebook’s efforts to bring more people online with affordable Internet, using everything from terrestrial signals to solar powered aircraft, is getting its first play in many remote India villages in the form of community managed Express Wi-Fi hubs.

Other companies like Intel have already committed themselves to the cause with parallel campaigns like Innovate for Digital India. It is also necessary for Modi to get some of these companies to think seriously about manufacturing in India, as that will be one of the big drivers for his ambitious growth plans.

For the tech giants, India is a large market, one where growth is assured for at least a few more years to come. India’s smart phone boom have benefitted a lot of companies in the Silicon Valley, right from large social media players like Twitter to small app companies, some of which are founded or run by Indians. For both, Google and Facebook, India is already the second largest market, but of primary importance since growth in the US market has plateaued and China is still a distant dream.

Also, it is hard to overlook India’s contribution to the success of Silicon Valley companies. Two of the giants here, Google and Microsoft, have Indians at the helm. All others have Indian-born executives in top positions.

According to Associated Press, “Asians now hold 25 per cent to 43 per cent of the US technology jobs at Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook, according to the companies’ most recent disclosures”. The chances are a significant number of these jobs are held by Indian and all you need is a walk through San Francisco’s business district to figure that out.

Modi will be at a dinner with top tech company CEOs on Saturday, followed by the town hall at the Facebook headquarters and visits to the Tesla and Google headquarters. His Tesla visit, where he is expected to take a test drive of one of the company’s pathbreaking electric cars with founder Elon Musk, is particularly interesting.

The Tesla car is expensive even by the standards of wealthy South Californian cities and a rarity on the roads. It will be a coup of sorts if Modi can get Musk to even think of a version of his iconic cars that would make sense in the developing world. While the cars might seems a bit out of place, India could be the perfect market for Tesla’s Powerwall solar batteries.

The Silicon Valley swing, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in over three decades, could actually end up being fruitful for both sides. We should have a better picture on Sunday.