Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision will be executed on the ground on a large scale: Entrepreneur Sunil Wadhwani

By Ritu Jha (reporting from Washington, DC)-

Indian American serial entrepreneur Sunil Wadhwani spoke to indica after attending the State dinner hosted by President Joe Biden for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 22.

“The state dinner was really striking, for a number of reasons – the turnout and the quality of the people attending was phenomenal. People across the political spectrum, senior people from the administration, people from both parties, Democrats, and Republicans were striking. The fact that the US-India relationship is going to a whole new level was evident. Both President Biden and Prime Minister Modi spoke very strongly about that. What was also interesting was the personal rapport between Prime Minister Modi and President Biden. It seemed to be very strong. They were cracking jokes with each other. They were very comfortable with each other. They were having a really good time. So that really struck out,” Wadhwani said.

The serial entrepreneur believes that the Biden-Modi bond is deeper than a superficial connection. “They were actually connecting. And clearly, beyond just the personal connection, they
both see the very great value and the strongest strategic partnership between the US and India. This is, I think, a watershed moment. And I think in the coming years, we’re going to see this relationship get to a whole new level.”

Wadhwani, however, cautions that there will be challenges at the execution level. “There are always challenges at the execution level. But all the CEOs who attended the state dinner – heads of Microsoft, Google, Apple, technology companies, the head of FedEx, Boeing, the CEO of General Electric, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani with his wife Nita Ambani. These are all people who know how to get things done at the ground level, and operate at fhe large scale. So, I think the follow-through will not be an issue. There are always day-to-day challenges. We all deal with them every day and we get through them. I think that’s what will happen over here. It won’t be overnight. And all the CEOs with whom we spoke today last night are all committed to building on what’s happening at the highest level between the countries.”

When asked about the semiconductors, Wadhwani said: “President Biden got this bill passed last year, the CHIPS Act, to help the semiconductor industry. And I think you might have seen yesterday that Micron Technologies, one of the largest chip companies in the US headed up by Mr. Sanjay Mehrotra, announced an $800 million investment in India in CHIP Fabrication. I think those are very exciting things for India.”

He added, “I’m very confident that these projects will move forward. India and the US see the benefit and the closest strategic partnership, geopolitically. But separately from a business standpoint, large enterprises in the US now see the risks of having all of their supply chains heavily concentrated in one area. And they’re looking to diversify. India is a natural with our huge technology workforce, regulations have got much better, infrastructures got much better, and continue to get stronger every day. US companies see the benefit of this diversification. Similarly, manufacturing in India accounts for about 2.5% of global GDP. That should double in the next three or five years. This way, it’s in everyone’s interest. For all of these large-scale initiatives that we’re talking about, whether it’s in ships, whether it’s in jet engines, whether it’s in aircraft, it’s in
a whole range of areas, this is to the benefit of all. That is a good sign for India,” added Wadhwani.

On artificial intelligence, Wadhwani had this to say: “Many of the ministries in India, and starting with the Prime Minister’s Office, in fact, now see the benefits that artificial intelligence can provide in terms of helping many sectors leapfrog, the way cell phones helped
telecommunications leapfrog. AI can give us the same benefits in agriculture, health care, education, and a variety of other sectors.”

“Beyond that, Prime Minister Modi has a very exciting vision. He says the US is far ahead of most countries and AI. China is racing very quickly, but in all of these places, AI is being used for traditional commercial purposes – How do we sell better? How do we serve customers better? Prime Minister Modi’s view is that all of that is good, but beyond that, for countries in the global south, like India, where there are still developmental challenges in education and health care, AI can be a factor that accelerates that. And his view is that India can be the global leader in AI for social growth – using artificial intelligence to improve the quality of life, especially the low-income communities,” he added.

Wadhwani is already working on that front. “We’re working very closely with the government on that. My brother and I started an artificial intelligence institute. It’s been over five years and we are working on a range of AI projects, with the government, the health ministry, the agriculture ministry, and the educational ministry.”

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