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Mr. Modi’s Moment

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s arrival on the political scene in India and now his arrival in our nation’s capital this week, the winds of change may be blowing in ways that point to a new beginning.  Coming into office on the heels of an historic landslide electoral victory in May, Mr. Modi’s promise of change is long overdue. 

Mr. Modi, himself, may be the first Indian prime minister who really knows how to harness the unlimited reach of technology.  With 22 million fans on his official Facebook page, he is certainly the first one to understand and embrace social media.

If you did not read Prime Minister Modi’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last Thursday, you should.  Published in the apex paper for American business (underscoring the new leader’s business-friendly predilections), it is chalk full of visionary vectors for India and its relationship with the United States.

The tech industry, which places a high premium on the Indian market and it’s nearly 1.3 billion consumers, however, has been frustrated with India in recent years for a series of policy decisions undermining the progress India had been making as a power in the global information and communications technology (ICT) marketplace. 

In his Wall Street Journal missive, Mr. Modi suggests a new approach, promising to bring about better governance to an opaque and inefficient system of government, which creates an abiding problem of unpredictability for those in the private sector trying to make short and long-term business decisions.  As Mr. Modi suggests, technology can help transform governance.  One positive step would be for India to put in place an Internet-based public comment procedure for all new regulatory proposals.

His promise to improve India’s infrastructure also resonates well. In fact, his goal of turning India into “a new global manufacturing hub” cannot be possible unless parts and products move smoothly across good roads, and manufacturing facilities have access to uninterrupted electricity and clean water.  Again, tech can play a huge role here through smart city, smart grid, and smart transportation technology solutions.

And let’s not forget Mr. Modi’s “Digital India” initiative, designed to connect the entire country through aggressive broadband build-out, promotion of e-governance, and other steps to transform the country into an Internet-connected knowledge economy.

So the stage is set for a reset in how India runs its economy, right?  We certainly hope so, but our industry remains perplexed by some recent steps.

The inclusion of new tariffs in the prime minister’s first budget on a range of telecom products that should be zero-tariff under the Information Technology Agreement certainly caught our attention.  If it wants to build a strong manufacturing sector, India needs to implement policies that help its industry more effectively integrate into the global supply chains. These new tariffs take India in the wrong direction and run counter to Mr. Modi’s pro-tech, pro-trade philosophy.

The Modi government’s decision to continue to breathe life into some highly problematic legacy policies is also confusing and inconsistent with the focus on growth.  The Preferential Market Access policy, which mandates the procurement of only domestically produced ICT products, was rolled back earlier to cover just public-sector procurements.  Even with the roll-back, it’s still a bad policy that will limit the Indian government’s access to the most affordable and innovative technologies.

India has also implemented an extremely inefficient and costly safety testing and certification scheme for a broad swath of electronic products sold in the country—ignoring an existing global agreement under which these products are already approved.  And now under Mr. Modi, the government in Delhi is looking to further expand its program.

As captured in his op-ed, Mr. Modi’s vision and his genuine embrace of the transformational nature of technology suggest the new leader is setting a good course.  He has inherited a sprawling government with colossal problems.  Our sector’s greatest hope is that we can work together to help meet those challenges.  The tech sector considers India a close friend and stands ready to be a trusted partner in Prime Minister Modi’s drive to transform India through technology and innovation. 

Public Policy Tags: Trade & Investment