On Indian Independence Day, advice for the country from stalwarts


What India needs to do was the focus of two speeches that made up the twin highlights Indian Independence Day celebration hosted by the Consulate General of India in San Francisco in Los Altos, California, on August 15.

Due to the pandemic, the celebration — usually attended by hundreds from the Indian-American community — was limited to hardly 50 people from various Indian organizations.

The twin highlights of the event were the speeches by Professor Solomon Darwin, executive director, Garwood Center Corporate Innovation at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, and Arogyaswami Paulraj, professor emeritus, Stanford University.

Darwin, known as the father of the smart village concept who is an adviser to India’s government think tank Niti Aayog, and Arogyaswami, who was been honored with the Padma Bhushan by India, shared their perspective about India and what India needs to do going forward.

Dr Nagendra Prasad, India’s consul general in San Francisco, lauded the Indian community leaders and said the community has been instrumental in celebrating India’s Independence Day.

He invited suggestions on how to engage more with the community. “This year we want to lay out a roadmap,” he said. “We would like to have some ideas during the calendar year until 2022.”

Consul General Prasad spoke about the District Export Hubs scheme launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019 to enable farmers and small industries benefit from export opportunities.

He asked the community to reach out to him with the proposal “if you know there is a [local] product [in an Indian district] that can be approached and pushed for exports.”

He also asked the community to encourage tech leaders, investment leaders and to help boost startups.

Professor Solomon Darwin spoke about “Rebuilding India.”

He said: “The prime minister wants to rebuild India, and has a vision and a message that we need to embrace, he so launched Start-up India and Digital India.

“This particular topic, Rebuilding India initiative, was PM Modi’s vision. We need to start all over again,” he said.

“The building India initiative is for a particular reason is because we were once a great civilization that mathematicians, scientists and innovators, and had the finest university, and somewhere along the way we created value for many around the world and for other countries but we failed to capture some of that value for ourselves, to sustain ourselves, to keep our value fresh and keep it going,” he said.

Professor Paulraj underlined the importance of science and technology (S&T).

After our independence, motivated largely by national security, we prioritized S&T in government institutions in strategic sectors like space, atomic energy and defense,” he said.

These efforts have contributed to India’s S&T profile and our defense posture but are not significant drivers for the economy.

“In the recent decades, much has changed in the world, and technology has now become the key driver in commercial sectors which are the main enablers of economic growth,” he said.

Therefore, the challenge for India is now to redefine our core S&T priorities and redirect them to build commercially focused, mass market, technology intensive industries.”

As examples, he cited semiconductors in the IT sector, gas turbines and advanced batteries in the energy sector and drug discovery in the pharma sector.

These are both foundational industries but also extremely hard to enter because of the high skills and massive capital investments needed,” he said.

He called semiconductors “the most pivotal technology industry of all.”

“Semiconductors now enable everything from smart phones to commercial jets and to MRI scans,”he pointed out. “It is today a $500 billion global industry…. The global R&D spending in semiconductor fab is projected to be around $3 trillion over the next 10 years. About 50 percent of this, likely from China. These are staggering numbers.”

India currently has no presence or market share in this vital sector,he said. “We must find ways to remedy this,” he said.

“It is in this connection, I visited India many times from 2017 to 2019 to persuade relevant ministries, NITI Ayog, NSA, PMO and the PM himself on the vital importance of semiconductor industry for India while also pointing out the huge barriers to create one. My suggestion was that a new commission be created, chaired by the PM himself, and empowered with sweeping powers, and be charged to building this industry — which will be mostly in the private sector. An optimistic goal for India can be 5 percent share of global semiconductor industry… in the next 10 years.”