Narendra Modi Prepares for Historic California Visit

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Saurabh Das/Associated Press)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Saurabh Das/Associated Press)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit the Bay Area this weekend, becoming the first Indian PM to visit the West Coast in over 30 years.

His goal during the visit is to foster his vision, which includes a component known as “Digital India.” The plan aims to promote more investment into India and a stronger alliance between the U.S.-India tech sector.

As India’s technologies have made inroads in Silicon Valley, Modi, 65, wishes to gear that same tech towards helping India’s own 1.2 billion-person population emerge out of poverty.

Modi’s visit will include a meeting with Google on Saturday before addressing an at-capacity crowd of 18,500 attendees at the SAP Stadium on Sunday.

“The bond between India and Silicon Valley is strong. India has long been an exporter of talent to tech companies,” Google’s new CEO Sundar Pinchai said in a YouTube greeting to Modi on Wednesday.

That same technology has brought with it a slew of foreign Indian workers, predominantly through temporary work visas better known as H-1Bs. There has been much contention over the alleged abuse of these H-1B visa holders to replace skilled American STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) workers in lieu of lower pay.

In the YouTube video, Pinchai praises Modi’s ambitious $18 billion initiative to connect Indian cities and villages to the Internet. While the prime minister hass gained much praise during 16 months in office so far, and will be met with great acclaim from members the technology elite this weekend, there is also tremendous opposition to Modi’s visit.

Several members of the the Indian-American community, under the leadership of a group of activists who refer to themselves as the Alliance for Justice and Accountability, launched a website titled and on social media have started trending the hashtags #ModiFail and #ModiFailDotCom.

Indian-American activists are also expected to protest Modi’s visit on Sunday, calling attention to some of his government’s restrictive practices, and accusing his Bharatiya Janata Party of practicing “disregard for human rights and civil liberties, as well as the autonomy of educational and cultural institutions,” according to the San Jose Mercury News. These accusations were reportedly penned in a letter signed by 100 U.S. academics from institutions like Harvard, Stanford and Columbia.

Modi, who has been a champion of Hindu nationalism, has also been criticized for a rise in mass violence and discrimination against religious minorities, India’s Dalit (formerly “untouchable”) caste, and women. India’s constitution is founded on secular principles.

Still, for many, Modi represents a shift in the way Indian leaders think. Jaspreet Singh, a founder of Druva, a cloud-based data protection firm, which boasts Tesla and NASA as clients, told the Mercury News that “India could be like Israel, a startup talent pool….There is a hope that the government is going to focus on entrepreneurship, nurture the talent pool and open up access to a market that hasn’t been open to startups.”

India could be slated to overtake China as home to the world’s largest middle-class population. India “reminds me of China a decade ago,” Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at London-based consultants Energy Aspects recently told the Washington Post. “The demand growth is unbelievable.”

Modi’s story has the narrative of a Cinderella-like rise from the ashes. He is the son of a tea peddler, born to a poor family in the state now known as Gujarat. His rise to political stardom has fascinated people at home and abroad.

Modi also worked to eradicate the spread of radical Islam in his country, which boasts the world’s second-largest Muslim population in the world, with 180 million nationals of that religion.

Yet Modi still faces backlash over the infamous 2002 riots in his home state of Gujarat, which resulted in the retaliatory killing of 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, over a fire that had caused the deaths of 58 Hindu pilgrims.

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz and on Facebook.


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