Modi’s Silicon Valley tour lays Digital India groundwork

28-Sep-2015 #Digital India Source: India Inc

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second visit to the US, is by all accounts, as successful as his first one a year ago. Barring some carping from political opponents in India, most observers agree that Modi has successfully arrested the feeling that his government’s reform initiatives have begun to ebb.

If his first visit last year was to put India back on the table of the world’s top investors, the current ongoing visit is to emphasise that the reforms pursued by his government over the last 15 months have taken the Indian economy to an inflexion point from which it can rationally expect to enter a higher growth trajectory.

The CEOs of leading Fortune 500 companies, who have met him over the last couple of days, publicly, collectively and individually expressed support for key Modi initiatives such as Make in India and Digital India.

They have also sought faster reforms, more transparent policies that improve the ease of doing business and a stable tax policy.

The government has moved decisively on all of these, but a lot more needs to be done. Now, given the economic problems in China, many of these companies are looking at India as an alternative destination for their investments.

The window of opportunity is narrow. If India can move quickly and put its house in order, a large part of the investible surpluses with these corporations can flow into India.

Such visits are not occasions to announce fresh investments and schemes. What they do is create the right environment and opticals for corporations to consider India as a viable place to do business in.

The support Modi received from technology giants such as Tesla, Microsoft, Facebook, Cisco, Google and others will be crucial for the rollout of the ambitious Digital India programme.

It has been estimated that India will have 500 million smartphone users within five years. This will improve Net penetration in the country, which already has the second-largest population (350 million) of internet users in the world.

In percentage terms, though, the figure is just 30 per cent of India’s population. This will have to increase dramatically for Digital India to have the expected impact.

Microsoft has announced that it will soon partner with the government to launch low cost broadband, probably based on “whitespace technology”, which uses the unused broadband between TV channels, to 500,000 villages across India. The country has an estimated 600,000 villages.

This, Microsoft’s India-born CEO Satya Nadella said, would lead to the delivery of more affordable products and services as well as more transparent governance to the remotest corners of India.

The groundwork has been done. Delivery will hold the key to success.

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