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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impending visit to meet Indian disapora in the Silicon Valley is sold out – The capacity of SAP Centre, an indoor arena in San Jose, California was 22,000 seats while there were close to 80,000 requests. Even the Facebook Townhall meeting is oversubscribed! There will be the usual fanfare of Silicon Valley dazzling the PM with how Indians in the valley have kept up with the culture along with some photo opportunities with the CEOs of some of the world’s biggest Tech companies, such as Adobe, Facebook, NetApp, Google etc. Razzle Dazzle apart, little of substance is going to be done during this visit to the valley. Enough has been written about how synergy between World’s #1 and #3 economies (if Purchasing power parity (PPP) is the yardstick) can lead to a new world order but, there has been little action on the ground. India continues to promise a lot of action and so does the United States (US), which tried very hard to get India and Pakistan to talk about terrorism, only for Pakistan to back out at the last moment. So what action needs to happen, you ask? Let us start with the US.
- Include India in re-building Afghanistan and stabilizing the fledgling democracy. In 2012, India built Afghanistan’s Parliamentary building and when US pulls out, India will be its largest trading partner. President Obama committed to a 10-year Aid package to Afghanistan, even after the US pulls out of Afghanistan, which incidentally has been delayed till at least the end of 2015. It is in the mutual interest of US and India that one democracy takes over the mantle of helping a fledgling democracy from the other. As the US ramps down, it can include India to ramp in and help Afghanistan stabilize. It is interesting to note that the word Afghan comes from the Sanskrit word Ashva-kan, meaning horsemen.
- India is one of the largest importers of crude oil, of which Iran has in abundance. Prior to the sanctions kicking in, India was an important trade partner with Iran. Post June 2012, when India agreed to cut importing crude from Iran (as part of Economic santcions) and scaled back trade, relations between the two countries have been low key. With Iran now having reached a deal with the US, the time is ripe for India to renew talks with Iran on establishing the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline. Since US is the biggest donor to Pakistan, it can help pave way for a smooth transport of crude. This can form a stepping stone for robust economic activity in the region.
- In one of her visits to India, Hilary Clinton made the famous observation about Pakistan that you cannot rear snakes in your backyard and expect them to only attack your neighbors. Seeing Pakistani inaction, US swooped in and eliminated Osama Bin Laden but has not followed through on its promise to go after those behind the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, in which 4 americans were also killed. Perhaps it is waiting for the opportune moment. A parallel effort to encourage Pakistan to join the economic mainstream and allow construction of the IPI pipeline will benefit everyone.
India has its plate full too. Some hits and some areas where it needs to look deep within.
- Much was promised in the previous trip of Prime Minister Modi and he did deliver on some – The Visa on arrival system is easy, smooth and painless. It took just 10 minutes to fill the form online and the electronic copy of the visa arrived by email, 24hours later.
- Along the same lines, if the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card application also were to be made easy, that would declare Modi government’s intent to welcome its diaspora back to invest and build new industries. Being an OCI will help speed up the process of investment.
- India’s equities are starved of foreign capital because of ownership restrictions, which should be eased. Also steps must be taken to make the Indian Rupee fully convertible (it is on Current Account but not on Capital Account). Many global investors are wary of investing in India’s equity markets because of the current restrictions in currency movement.
- PM Modi is proud of the fact that he has the ability to pick the right person for the right job. Has he done this in the choice of his cabinet? Many do not seem to think so. India is one of the fastest growing economies but it also needs to generate new jobs at the rate of approximately 3 million a month, a non-trivial task.
- Bringing back Black Money was a major plank on which the BJP rode to power. Efforts that have been made to bring this back thus far have been feeble – A more comprehensive approach has been described here and it is hoped that the Government will take this up on a priority basis. The United States can help India track it down quickly. This money is badly needed for building India’s infrastructure.
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