Narendra Modi’s US Visit – Nothing Short of Transformational

Narendra Modi’s US Visit – Nothing Short of Transformational

September 24, 2014

There are only three world leaders that are received as rock stars when they travel abroad.  One is Barack Obama, who has a personal charisma and is still the President of the United States.  The second is Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.  For decades now, Presidential candidates from Mexico have campaigned in the United States and hosted events with our large Mexican American community.


Narendra Modi is the third.  In theory, the Prime Minister of India is the third. But not until we saw Prime Minister Modi’s schedule for this weekend’s trip to New York and Washington did we realize the extent to which the Prime Minister of India has the potential to captivate America.  Narendra Modi will speak to a sold-out audience of 20,000 people at New York’s venerable Madison Square Garden, meet with Fortune 50 CEO’s and leading Indian American activities.  He will speak to the UN General Assembly and meet President Obama.  Hearing him speak is the hottest ticket in town.


Achieving rock star status will be the first of four important outcomes of this trip for Prime Minister Modi, President Obama and the US-India relationship.  Americans will see the passion that Indian Americans maintain for India in a manner never seen before.  Secondly, the visit will be a chance for the Prime Minister to convince American business executives that India plans to be a trustworthy and sturdy business partner.  American business has become frustrated with India’s confusing policy decision, its politics and corruption.  Narendra Modi will do his best to convince them otherwise.  Third, it will be a bonding experience.  Prime Minister Modi and his team will meet, socialize with, negotiate with, and learn to trust American leadership.  The importance of this cannot be overstated.  After all that has happened over the last few years, it is important that senior American leaders at the White House, Pentagon, State Department and elsewhere believe that India’s leadership is committed to collaboration and negotiation –even when our short-term goals do not align.  The same will be expected by the Indian leadership of the Americans.


Lastly, the Americans and Indians will begin the difficult task of re-prioritizing the US-India relationship, and identifying steps towards greater integration of the US and Indian economy.  Prime Minister Modi has set ambitious goals for Indian’s economic growth – goals that will require American expertise, innovation and investment.  And America needs India as part of its efforts to increase exports and access to world markets.


India’s bilateral trade with the United States stands at a measly $120 billion annually.  This is a fraction of the trade the United States does with China ($580 billion) and Mexico ($539 billion).  Both are large developing countries with much deeper business integration with the United States.  This is not the economic relationship that the world’s largest and 3rd largest economies should be having.  And most of the regurgitated ideas floating around Washington and Delhi – about intellectual property, infrastructure and defense sales, won’t put US-India economic relations on the same track as the Chinese or Mexicans.


At Gateway House, we have created a roadmap for a $1 trillion economic partnership between the United States and India by 2030.   You can read the executive summary of the report at:


The starting point for this is to replicate the experience of the 1990’s.  In the early 1990’s, India saw a 40x increase in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and the creation of 10 million jobs.  How did this happen?  First, Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao led the first liberalization of the Indian economy.  Secondly, American companies began to utilize the skills of Indian IT workers, and Indian technology companies, to launch the BPO/outsourcing/IT revolution in India.  Today, as we stand at the cusp of another round of reforms by Prime Minister Modi, we must find the next IT revolution – or the basket of new technologies that will create rapid economic growth.


The Chinese, Japanese, Russians and Germans may be able to provide certain products and services more competitively than the United States – such as capital goods and weapons systems. But the innovation, entrepreneurship, investment and technology required for a large-scale leap in job creation and economic output will come from the United States, which remains the world leader in innovation by far.


Where do these opportunities lie?  After speaking with over 50 senior executives in the United States and India in business, government, academia and non-profit, there are four clear areas where India can benefit from the United States, and where Americans can benefit from the competencies of Indian companies and the Indian people.


What India needs to do:

  • In order to tackle India’s development challenges, it is necessary to create a “surge” – i.e. rapid and intense deployment of talented individuals and technical experts to address critical and immediate challenges – in areas such as infrastructure, healthcare, energy and agriculture. A surge provides an opportunity to invite companies and experts from the U.S. to begin working on these critical areas.
  • Leading and innovating new technologies can create millions of new jobs and opportunities in India. Towards this, India needs to build a “Silicon Swadesh” – a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem, modelled on Silicon Valley, to support home-grown innovation and entrepreneurship across several Indian cities.
  • India needs to build a ramp for poverty alleviation i.e. a ramp which would enable the 42% of Indians that live under the World Bank poverty line of $1.25 a day to access the services of NGOs, social entrepreneurs and microfinance organizations. These organizations are able to identify problems as well as scale solutions, but they are unable to build sustainable systems and expertise to achieve a lasting impact. Entrepreneurial and non-profit models from the U.S. can be of assistance here.
  • The country needs to take advantage of next generation technologies for which it is well suited, such as synthetic biology, 3D printing, mobile, social and big data, to create an industrial base in India from which products and services can be sold and jobs created. The U.S. is a pioneer in many of these technologies, and a fruitful collaboration between the two countries would involve mainly research and sales.


What the U.S. needs to do:

  • Indian Americans have contributed significantly to the entrepreneurial, small business and healthcare sectors in the U.S. – Indian American co-founders form nearly 33% of Silicon Valley start-ups and account for about 7% of American physicians. India can continue to feed this pipeline of skilled professionals in the U.S.
  • Companies in the U.S. have struggled with budget limitations caused by global competition and the global financial crisis. Indian companies have experience in low-cost innovation, constant process improvement and frugal budgeting and seeing applications – much can be learned from them about innovation and scale.
  • An estimated 100 million Indians who study and work abroad have family and friends in the U.S. and maintain a connection to the U.S. throughout their lives. The U.S. can leverage this customer base in the areas of education, tourism and luxury brands.
  • The number of development entrepreneurs and innovators in the U.S. is increasing – their inventions are technologically cutting edge, and they are committed to making a difference. They are keen to collaborate with Indian partners on research, innovation, experimentation to reach a potential customer base of nearly 5 billion Indians for development-related products, brands and services.


These eight tracks provide us with a roadmap for a unique relationship that only the United States can forge with India.  It represents things that the Americans can do best, and areas where India’s unique expertise can add immediate value to the US economy.


Let’s hope that Prime Minister Modi and President Obama can make the most of these unique opportunities – this weekend and beyond.