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Modi Fever Fuels Silicon Valley Head Rush

By Sharon Simonson

Indian venture capitalist Naren Gupta (left) and Khanderao Kand explained to reporters Thursday why the Indian-American community has responded so positively and strongly to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo by Sharon Simonson)
Indian venture capitalist Naren Gupta (left) and Khanderao Kand, who helped to organize the Sept. 27 community reception for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the SAP Center in San Jose, spoke to reporters Sept. 24 at San Jose City Hall.

SAN JOSE — Naren Gupta, founder of Nexus Venture Partners with offices in Menlo Park and Mumbai, confided to a room of 50 reporters at San Jose City Hall on Sept. 24: He has not been involved in politics in the past.

Gupta is co-chairman of the Indo-American Community of West Coast, or IACWC, the organization managing the community reception for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi today at San Jose’s SAP Center.

Modi, Gupta admitted, has turned his head: “He is an absolutely remarkable leader.”

Reaching across a sea, the prime minister has coalesced the diverse Indian community in the United States. The “whole diaspora has come together,” said Khanderao Kand, who helped create the IACWC in July to accept responsibility for making the Modi reception happen. People from India’s north, south, east and west with many languages and religions had joined in a short time in a way he has not seen, Kand told reporters. 

The IACWC is partnering with 500 other organizations nationwide, all of them seeking to promote closer U.S.-India ties. Tickets are free for the 18,500 people attending Modi’s reception including a speech from the prime minister, with the majority of the passes distributed through the partner organizations. Thousands more people sought to attend the event, and a small area had been set up outside the center for a couple of thousand people in that overflow crowd, Kand said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the SAP Center in downtown San Jose today.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the SAP Center in downtown San Jose today. (Photo courtesy prime minister’s office.)

Gupta and Kand attributed Modi’s popularity among Indians in America to a collective hope that Modi transforms India in the way that he is credited with transforming the Indian state of Gujarat as its chief minister for more than a decade. Modi was elected India’s prime minister in May 2014.

“We people of Indian origin go back to India, and we ask, ‘We can contribute so much to Silicon Valley, but how is it that India is not getting developed?’” said Kand, a big data expert and technologist who holds multiple U.S. patents. “We had all of this pain, and now we see this man who has all of these skills, and that is why you have all of these people coming together.”

In his speech before the United Nations on Sept. 25 in anticipation of international climate talks later this year, Modi said he sought to develop India sustainably while reducing poverty. He spoke of increasing India’s reliance on renewable energy, “afforestation,” financial innovation, and technology as a force for collective good, not only private wealth.

Reporters at the Sept. 24 news conference at San Jose City Hall in anticipation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s community reception this evening at the SAP Center in downtown San Jose.

India has expanded the traditional economic paradigm of public sector and private sector with the “personal sector of individual enterprise, micro enterprises and micro finance, drawing … on the strength of digital and mobile applications,” he said. His programs have brought Indians 180 million new bank accounts that allow the direct transfer of government benefits, dramatically cutting corruption.

Late Sept. 25, the IACWC released the names of confirmed dignitaries attending the San Jose event including 13 Congressmen and -women and 26 Bay Area mayors and city council people. Democratic House Leader and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco was the first name.

But the invitees also encompassed people of daunting technical expertise including rich bi-cultural talent. To name a few: Indian native Ram Shriram, an early Google Inc. investor and current board member; Shankar Sastry, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California-Berkeley, also an Indian native and former director of the Information Technology Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; Nobel Laureate economist Myron Scholes, an emeritus finance professor from Stanford University; and Shantanu Narayen, president and chief executive of San Jose-based cloud software company Adobe Systems Inc.

Organizers for the event warned of strict security and lines. Doors into the center are to close promptly at 5 p.m., and no one will be admitted after.

At Thursday’s City Hall news conference, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said that Modi’s visit “amplified” San Jose’s already rising star on the world stage. Airlines recently announced nonstop flights from San Jose to Beijing and to London. South Korean electronics giant Samsung Electronics christened a North San Jose headquarters this week. “San Jose is really taking off, and we are going to the next level, and this is just one more indication of this,” the mayor proclaimed.

“What we are hoping and expecting is that (Modi’s visit) is the start of a process,” Kand told reporters moments earlier. “I would like (Mayor Liccardo) to make frequent visits to India as well.”

“As soon as we get that direct flight,” Liccardo responded in a joke-y-not-so-joke-y voice.

“I am waiting for that flight too,” Gupta said.

“We will be ready for Prime Minister Modi (Sunday) and 50,000 people in downtown San Jose eager for his arrival,” Liccardo told the City Hall news conference moments before he slipped out a side door to attend to other responsibilities. Liccardo is also among the elected officials expected today.

(Photos by Sharon Simonson)

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