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This time, Narendra Modi’s UNGA visit to focus on digital seat for India

New Delhi,Amita Shah,Iftikhar Gilani: Unlike in the past when heads of states’ September visits to the US revolved around the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), this time Prime Minister Narendra Modi is zooming in on the West Coast to push for India’s technology-driven development plans.

During his two-day stay in San Jose, the tech-savvy Prime Minister is scheduled to have back-to-back engagements, mostly with the Who’s Who of Silicon Valley. Modi’s focus, while connecting with technology leaders, is likely to underline the message to choose India as a destination and reach out to industry to help boost Digital India. While he presents what India has to offer, the meetings would also help by giving an opportunity for the tech brass to meet the PM face-to-face, according to sources closely involved in Modi’s US visit beginning September 23.

The first visit of an Indian PM to California in over three decades, Modi is also departing from the convention of addressing the UNGA and instead will make a speech at the UN Sustainable Development Summit. So far only external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s name figures on the list of speakers from India at the UNGA. While there have been instances of the external affairs minister addressing the UNGA in the past, it has happened only when the Prime Minister was not visiting, ministry sources said. Foreign ministers of other countries will also be addressing the UNGA. Modi, however, has been making attempts to push for a permanent seat for India in the United Nations Security Council during bilateral meetings with world leaders.

Former ambassador to the US, Naresh Chandra, recalled how in the previous NDA regime, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee cancelled plans to visit the West Coast at the last minute because of his knee problem and he requested Jaswant Singh, who was external affairs minister, to go there to interact with Indian IT professionals and entrepreneurs. “Its good that Modi is going to Silicon Valley. And he is meeting not just the Indians community representatives but also other top tech leaders. The important thing is that he might get to hear their views on the ease of doing business in India,” he said.

As far as the UN was concerned, Chandra said it was a regular annual feature where India is one among a crowd of around 160 nations. “The new dimension is the West Coast,” he said.

Among the engagements lined up are a townhall at Facebook office and an interaction with its founder Mark Zuckerberg, a meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook, visit to the Tesla Motors headquarters and a meeting with its CEO Elon Musk. According to sources, the effort from the Indian side would be to convey that India should not be seen just as a market for companies like Apple, but also as a manufacturing hub.

“Our development plans for India in the next few years will be technology-driven. So there is enormous scope for tech companies. Cultivating techology leaders is a key aspect of the visit. The engagements would help in understanding what India can offer and what they feel,” said BJP general secretary Ram Madhav.

Besides a round-table on renewable energy, one on disruptive digital technologies is also under consideration, sources said adding that India was looking at lifestyle changing start-ups. Modi will be addressing the Indian diaspora in an auditorium with a capacity of 20,000 at San Jose.

Modi is expected to meet US President Barack Obama on September 28 when he returns to New York after his West Coast tour. He will also attend a dinner where leaders of Fortune 500 companies will be present.

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