Nash DavidMay 30, 2016 12:56:36 IST
Since becoming the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has worked effortlessly in pushing his Digital India programme. In addition, there has been the Startup India as well as Make in India projects that have received immense media coverage over the past couple of years. Some sceptics do question the hype around these programmes, while others question, well, the very right to question.
Since taking over as PM, Narendra Modi focused on bringing a sense of optimism in the Indian industry, and reduce red-tapism experienced by businesses thinking of setting up shop here. In the tech world, some of these names would include Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and many more. In September 2015, PM Modi embarked on a trip to the US. Turns out, Chinese president Xi Jinping's visit happened at the same time. Both had the same agenda – to woo American businesses to come and set up shop in their respective countries. While Jinping had to focus his concerns towards Capitol Hill due to security, hacking and business, Modi addressed the innovation hub – Stanford, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Tesla, Apple and the business leaders of the US who have an eye on India.
Luckily for India, a significant percentage of popular tech companies are led by Indians, or have Indians in senior leadership positions. Business decisions, however, aren't taken based on the nationality or affinity of a company's leader. It's taken on merit of the market, the dynamics of business environment prevalent in that specific markets, and the overall nature of opportunities that lie ahead. So when Modi met key leaders – Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, Tim Cook, and a host of others – the agenda was clear. To communicate that India is a land of opportunities, growth and ease of doing business.
Irrespective of their nationality, business leaders view India as a market of opportunity. It provides the essential numbers to provide growth to businesses that were otherwise plateauing in developed markets. The result has been a surge of interest in India. Over the past couple of years, there has been a lot of activity in India.
Free Basics and the battle for free!
February 2015 saw Internet.org, Zuckerberg's pet project get launched in India. This happened via a partnership between Facebook and Reliance Communications. Back then the plan was to go online pan-India 'over the next 90 days.' That period was to end in May 2015. Over the course of these months, voices calling for a free Internet began to gain prominence. Free here referred to freedom, not so much free as in a free beer.
The days and weeks that went by saw a significant opposition to Internet.org. Some referred to Free Basics as 'so-called philanthropy' – which keeps coming back in different avatars – is nothing but an attempt to buy the de-anonymised packets of the Indian poor at a bulk rate, breaking their security in the process of destroying their privacy. Before long, Kirthiga Reddy, Facebook India's first employee decided to move back to the US and 'explore new opportunities at Facebook back at Menlo Park.'
Free Internet and the widespread support
On the other hand, when Sundar Pichai visited India, he brought with him the idea of internet infrastructure that offered free Wi-Fi at hundreds of railway stations in India. The idea of a private company helping out to meet the requirements of million of citizens was welcomed by Indians. There's certainly a lot that Facebook could've learned from Google in the way it tried to bring 'free internet' to million of Indians.
Nonetheless, here was a company that was investing in India – and was solving a problem that is at the core of every Indian's online experience – low bandwidth, patchy connectivity and last mile hurdles. The availability of internet connectivity at railway stations, similar to airports, helps millions connect with millions more!
Support for Startup India
Overall the industry has been quite supportive of Indian government projects such as Startup India and Digital India. Many companies announced Make in India plans to woo Indians. But what is needed is far beyond rebranding business as Make in India. What's needed is local employment, local sourcing and local pricing. Generally speaking, up until now, Make in India literally was business for Foxconn India. Life went on as usual because it was pretty much business as usual. Only the manufacturing partner now had a manufacturing plant in India, which was optimally utilised. In fact, the Sri City plant caters to a bunch of popular smartphone manufacturers.
Apple incubator and iPhone pricing
A surprise visit in the recent weeks was Apple CEO Tim Cook. He took India by surprise. Among the few signals that were given out was the possibility of iPhone prices being at par with international pricing. Currently, India happens to be among the costliest places to buy Apple products.
In addition, the opening up of a mapping centre in Hyderabad and a startup accelerator in Bengaluru were key highlights. However, there's much more for Apple to gain from these moves. Apple needs to overhaul its Maps offering, and hence it's focussing on India. Similarly, the app accelerator in Bengaluru is aimed at giving a push to the developer community to build apps for iOS in a market that is ruled by Android. The one announcement that many in India would be waiting for would be a fall in prices of devices. These are tangible benefits for India amidst the frequent visits by global tech leaders.
Tesla preorders in India
Among the prominent business heads who PM Modi met while in the Silicon Valley was Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Now certainly, there's time before we see Elon Musk come to India and announce local manufacturing. Even the government machinery in India says that for hi-tech businesses, 30 percent sourcing needs to happen locally. But on a case-to-case basis, this could be overruled. A small step towards this direction was the availability of the Tesla Model S pre-booking in India.
The pre-booking became as popular as a viral video, garnering billions of dollars for Tesla.
What is left to be seen is how much of the 'warmth of Indian people' translates to tangible benefits for the Indian market. One thing is to visit India, and praise Indians for their warmth. On the other hand, it might just help to treat the Indian market with equal fervour and priority that it deserves.
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