It’s India’s time: Prime Minister’s visit to US highlights ongoing transformation

Editor’s note: Steve S. Rao is a Council Member At Large and Former Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Morrisville and an Opinion Writer for WRAL Tech Wire.  He served on the Board of the New American Economy, now the American Immigration Council, and on the NC League of Municipalities Race and Equity Task Force. He is a regular contributing writer to WRAL TechWire.

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – In 2007,  I led a business mission to India as a Member of TIE Carolinas in collaboration with the US-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC).

After a long day of meetings in Ahmedebad, our delegation looked forward to a meeting with the state’s Chief Minister.   We had heard that he was a very progressive leader, who was accomplishing great things for his state.

His name was Narendra Modi.

We often forget that before becoming the Prime Minister of India,  Narendra Modi served as the Chief Minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014.  During my meeting with him, I quickly noticed that this man had a vision for India, far greater than anyone could imagine.    He also was very excited to know that I had married into a family from his state, and that there were many Gujarati immigrants that called North Carolina home.

Steve Rao

During our meeting,  Modi shared with our delegation his focus on various initiatives and policies aimed at the development of his state, primarily his efforts on economic development, infrastructure development, solar power, and the development of a Knowledge Economy.   His passion and drive were amazing, and I clearly remember that there was a line of Executives from companies all over the world waiting to meet him.   North Carolina Economic Development Director, Paul Butler, was blown away with how many countries were lining up to meet the Chief Minister, a line much longer than any Governor of North Carolina would see.

A quick search on Chat GPT clearly revealed that Modi’s vision for his state led to incredible results in his 13 years of leadership as Chief Minister.

Economic Development: With regards to Economic Development,  Modi focused on attracting investment and promoting industrial growth in Gujarat.  He initiated the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, a biennial event that serves as a platform for business leaders to explore investment opportunities in the state. This summit helped Gujarat become one of India’s leading industrial hubs and attracted significant domestic and foreign investment.

Infrastructure Development: Modi prioritized infrastructure development in Gujarat. He spearheaded projects like the Sabarmati Riverfront Development, which transformed the riverfront area of Ahmedabad into a vibrant public space. He also emphasized the improvement of roads, highways, airports, and ports, enhancing connectivity within the state and with the rest of the country.   It should not be a surprise that the world’s most valuable company, Apple,  is continuing to pivot to India, eyeing its potential as both a consumer market and production hub. 

Agriculture and Rural Development: Modi implemented various initiatives to support the agricultural sector and rural development in Gujarat. He introduced water management schemes, such as the Sardar Sarovar Dam, to provide irrigation and drinking water to farmers and rural communities. He also launched programs to improve agricultural productivity, promote agro-industries, and empower rural women through initiatives like the self-help group movement.

Solar Power: Under Modi’s leadership, Gujarat became a pioneer in the field of solar power generation. He encouraged the development of solar parks and implemented policies to promote solar energy adoption. The state witnessed significant growth in solar power installations and emerged as a leading solar energy producer in India.

Education and Skill Development: Modi emphasized the importance of education and skill development for the youth of Gujarat. He focused on improving the quality of education, establishing new schools and colleges, and promoting vocational training programs. His efforts aimed to equip the youth with the necessary skills to thrive in a competitive job market.

Fast forward 16 years,  and it is clear, that Modi has been able to expand the vision he had for his own state of Gujarat to the entire nation of India, resulting in the 5th largest economy in the world, and a major player on the world stage.

India is on the rise, big time

This fact was made evident a few weeks ago, when I hosted Indian Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu in Morrisville for the US India Business Connection conference and attended the Select USA Conference Reception at his residence in Washington D.C.

Ambassador Sandhu shared some key points for all of us in attendance, which I will do my best to summarize for all of you.

1.     Young India  60 % of India’s population is under the age of 26.    This provides the country with an huge talent pool for the global economy, and provides a  market for US Companies, looking to expand trade and seeking new business opportunities.   In addition, the Prime Minister is dedicated to also workforce training and programs to transition much of the population into a knowledge workforce.

2.     Start Ups are on the rise in India.   The growth of the younger population also positions India to be creating many of the new jobs, which John Chambers has mentioned will be necessary to offset job loss through automation and the acceleration of AI.     Ambassador Sandhu reminded us that there are 100,000 startups in India, and 30 of them are already $1billion unicorns.

3.     Digital India:    India now has 1.2 billion with a digital identity  (99% of the population).  The Government Initiative Aadhaar, gives every Indian a unique 12-digit ID number verifiable by fingerprints or an iris scan.  This platform allows them to process payments, and basically conduct all commerce on their mobile devices.   A key distinctive feature of the platform  its most distinctive is that it is publicly owned and operated, unlike in the West, where digital platforms such as Google and Facebook are private monopolies that can share your data to make a profit.

The Adddhaar Platform is having a profound impact India’s economy especially in the rural villages.  Indians who would never have access to banks, can now create a bank account in minutes, and transfer money without bank fees like in this country. (Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, April 2023)

And Digital India can accelerate the growth of small businesses in India.

Nandan Nilekani, the visionary architect of Aadhaar envisions using the platform to get loans to the millions of small businesses scattered throughout the country. If 10 million small businesses get loans and hire two people, 20 million jobs could be created in a matter of weeks. (Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, April 2023)

4.     Broadband: Mukesh Ambani, India’s biggest and most ambitious business leader, made a staggering $46 billion bet when he offered very cheap phones and data packages through his telecom service Jio, he could get most Indians on the internet.  His plan worked.   With most using smartphones as their computers, more than 700 million Indians now use the internet. In 2015, India was ranked 122nd for per capita mobile data consumption. Last year, it was first, exceeding the consumption of China and the United States combined.

In addition, while Secretary Weaver is working hard, to invest the $1billion of  ARP broadband funding in North Carolina, all of us were shocked to hear that India has already deployed broadband access to over 340 million citizens in the the rural villages, which will also have a positive impact on economic growth.

The Indian government has launched the Smart Cities Mission to develop 100 smart cities across the country. These smart cities aim to leverage technology and data to enhance the quality of life for residents, and to improve urban infrastructure.

5.     Infrastructure:  And remember Modi’s commitment to infrastructure when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat?  Government infrastructure  spending has risen fivefold since fiscal 2014.  India has been investing heavily in transportation infrastructure, including roads, railways, airports, and ports. The government has initiated numerous projects to improve connectivity across the country, such as the Bharatmala project for road development, the Sagarmala project for port-led development, and the expansion of metro rail networks in various cities.     The average construction of national highways has roughly doubled, along with seaport capacity and the number of airports.

6.     Sustainable India:   As Prime Minister, Modi has also been able to continue  his vision for  a sustainable India. The renewable energy sector, including solar and wind power, has also witnessed significant growth, with the government setting ambitious targets for renewable energy capacity addition.    Also, India has been working towards enhancing its power generation capacity and expanding access to electricity as it has launched initiatives scheme to provide electricity to rural and remote areas.

7.     Indian Foreign Direct Investment in US:    Finally, I also attended the Select USA Reception at Ambassador Sandhu’s residence where he hosted the largest Indian Delegation in History at a conference which is focused on marketing US States for global foreign direct investment.     I was pleased to see our Governor Roy Cooper, Secretary of Commerce Machelle Sanders, and EDPNC CEO, Chris Chung at the reception making a case of how North Carolina is a great state for Indian companies to expand operations.   (Adding to Infosys, Bharat Forge, and HCL to name a few).

India’s time has arrived

During the event, the Ambassador presented the Foreign Direct Investment report, released by the Federation of Indian Industry, which he presented to the new US Ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti.

Indian companies invested $40 billion in US, creating 425,000 jobs, contributed $1 billion in Research and Development, and $195 million in corporate social responsibility.   North Carolina did not make the top ten list.    I hope that Governor Roy Cooper and his Commerce Team left this event, even more inspired to do more to recruit more Indian multinationals to North Carolina, adding  to the list of Indian Companies, like Infosys, HCL, and Bharat Forge that now call North Carolina home.    After all, we do have an office in Bengalaru, and one of the fastest growing Indian Communities in the Triangle.

I look forward  to attending the White House Arrival Ceremony for Prime Minister Modi, and hear the Prime Minister address the United States Congress and the Business Leaders at the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (John Chambers is the Chair) at the Kennedy Center on Friday.

As we prepare to welcome Prime Minister Modi to the United States, let us be inspired by  the tremendous opportunities for collaboration between North Carolina and India, including the expansion of  trade, investment, and also, partnerships with our Community College System to expand training programs for a very young Indian workforce.   (They do not have an established  community college system)

More importantly, from where I sit as an elected official, and a business leader,  I hope that all of us can draw inspiration from Prime Minister Modi’s bold leadership for the world largest democracy, and now fifth largest economy in the world.

In his Modi’s own words, India’s time has arrived.

The transformation of the Indian economy did not happen overnight.   It took bold vision and decisive action to get India moving in the right direction.  Expect more market leading companies to join the likes of Apple and Cisco to invest in India in the very near future.   I am sure many CEOs across many industries will be interested in what the Prime Minister has to say about his plans for India’s economy.

There is still much work to do.   As of 2019, about 45 percent of Indians — more than 600 million people — live on less than $3.65 a day.

And lets not forget inclusivity, addressing concerns about the mistreatment and discrimination of religious minorities, women, and  the suppression of free speech in India during Modi’s term.

While the US-India relationship is critically important to counter the rise of China as a major world rival of the United States, I hope our Congressional and State Leaders, can learn one important lesson from India’s prime minister.

Governing is not enough.   Executing a vision is critical for the future of any nation.