Ready to help if only Modi would use our services, says TiE Silicon Valley chief

Ritu Jha-

Policy announcements make for great headlines, but the devil is in the detail and execution is the hard part, remarked TiE Silicon Valley president BJ Arun as he headed to Houston, Texas, to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s grand community rally on Sunday, Sept 21.

The rally at the NRG stadium is expected to draw 50,000 Indian Americans. Modi is also scheduled to host an Energy Roundtable with CEOs of 16 leading American companies. The firms to have confirmed participation are Baker Hughes, British Petroleum, Cheniere Energy, Dominion Energy, Emerson Electric Company, ExxonMobil, Perot Group’s Hillwood, IHS Markit, LyondellBasell Industries, McDermott, Schlumberger, Tellurian, Total, Air Products, Vinmar International and Westlake Chemicals.

Recalling Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley in 2015, where TiE played a major role in helping the prime minister articulate his dream agenda of Digital India, Arun told indica, “They have not leaned more on seasoned Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Particularly since TiE gave so many inputs for the policy, they should have inducted Silicon Valley stalwarts to help drive that.

“We are all happy to do it pro bono. We [are ready to] do it just for the love of our motherland and are not looking for any compensation.”

But the Modi administration failed to take advantage of this huge pool of seasoned entrepreneurs who had been delighted to support his policies. Instead, it relied on officials who, while they might be good people, have never been entrepreneurs.

Arun welcomed the recent withdrawal of the controversial angel tax in India after an uproar from venture capitalists and long-time India supporters. He said seeing the sluggish Indian economy, with Moody’s cutting the growth forecast for the year from 6.8% to 6.2%, and given Modi’s dream to take it to $5 trillion by 2025, this was the right thing to do.

Referring to Modi and his charismatic personality, he said, “Clearly his intent is good, he is one man, but how much can he look into? If only he and his officers in charge had tapped into this huge resource pool of experience. That‘s where I think it was a missed opportunity.”

It is still not too late, Arun said. “If I get an opportunity to have a few words with him, the Indian diaspora, all of us, would be happy to help [boost India’s economy]. Even if we have to make dedicated trips, we are happy to help and execute programs.

“We look at him as a great leader and want the best for India. Sometimes if you just give sound bites and have no follow-through, that’s of no use.”

Asked about the expectations of President Donald Trump, who would be making history by joining Modi at the community rally, he said, “We have lost the “most favored nation’ trade partner status with the US.” MFN status is given to international trade partners to ensure nondiscriminatory trade. “Trump this past May canceled it. I am sure [Modi] and his team will bring it up. This is something that impacts bilateral trade.”

Beyond business, there are other issues like the withdrawal of special status for Jammu & Kashmir under Article 370 and the constant confrontation with Pakistan. Arun believes that Trump joining Modi at the rally “does send a subtle message. You can read between the lines on whose side he is.”

Reports have said Modi’s US visit may start a new phase of corporate relations between major energy firms of the two countries. Companies like Baker Hughes, headquartered in Houston and owned by General Electric, operating in India with a wholly-owned subsidiary, while Houston-based Cheniere Energy has struck a deal to supply GAIL, India’s biggest gas transporter, 5.8 million tonnes of US liquefied natural gas per annum for 20 years.

But public-sector oil companies like Indian Oil Corp are also likely to use the opportunity to strike oil supply deals in the wake of the recent disruption in the global oil markets following the drone attacks on two of Saudi Aramco’s oil-processing units in Saudi Arabia.

Modi is also expected to meet top executives of various startups and encourage them to have a wider presence in India. On the bilateral front, he will discuss various trade pacts with Trump. Besides cooperation in defense and energy, the two countries are likely to discuss action steps to boost trade.

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