Modi targets Silicon Valley with Digital India PR pitch

Indian PM promoting his digital vision for the country and looking to secure help of US technology heavyweights

Prime minister Narendra Modi visited Facebook headquarters during his trip
Prime minister Narendra Modi visited Facebook headquarters during his trip

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, was on a PR charm offensive this weekend in Silicon Valley to attract more business from the likes of Google and Facebook, and enlist their services in developing India’s technology sector.

Speaking at a dinner on Saturday in San Jose, Modi outlined his desire to "launch a new era of empowerment and inclusion" through his Digital India plan, announced in August last year, and said the "strength of the partnership between India and the United States" was key to this.

"Today, we speak of [the] India-US partnership as a defining partnership of this century. It hinges on two major reasons. Both converge here in California," he said.

"We all know that the dynamic Asia-Pacific region will shape the course of this century. And, India and the United States, the world's two largest democracies, are located at the two ends of this region."

Modi’s trip has already derived tangible benefits, as he announced in his speech a venture with Google to offer WiFi hotspots at 500 Indian railway stations.

"We will promote [the] manufacture of quality and affordable products in India," he said. "That is part of our vision of Make in India, Digital India and Design in India."

Name-checking Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp among others, Modi spoke of his government harnessing the power of social media to communicate more effectively with India’s people and its efficiency in rolling out new initiatives and projects.

Nitin Mantri, CEO of Avian Media in New Delhi, has been closely tracking the Digital India initiative. He said Modi’s speech and trip has two main purposes; first, to really push Digital India.

"When Modi was elected, Digital India was a key initiative, so to make it a reality he is talking to all the important technology companies like Google, Cisco and Qualcomm. He really wants to make this happen," said Mantri.

But Mantri said Modi was also determined to tell large multinationals that India is a friendly environment for international business. Historically, India has had a poor reputation in this area, with foreign investment suffering because of burdensome bureaucracy among other issues.

Modi’s speech included language on promoting "paperless transactions" in India, and giving "the highest importance to data privacy and security, intellectual property rights and cyber security."

"Modi’s message is clear: help us digitise India, and help us make India more business-friendly," Mantri said. "He wants the world to know that India is open for business."

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