When Narendra Modi takes the centre stage for an event involving the corporate sector, it is not surprising that the who's who of India Inc. would be there. On Wednesday, however, even a 15,000-capacity stadium in Delhi seemed trifle small for a venue when the Prime Minister launched the "Digital India Week" to empower citizens with the use of IT.
Amid loud cheers, applause and even sharp whistles, the PM appeared to be loving every moment of the two-hour event, as leader after leader from the corporate world pledged support for what is touted as one of his pet initiatives to touch the life of every citizen.
"I dream of a digital India where high-speed digital highways unite the nation; 1.2 billion connected Indians drive innovation; technology ensures the citizen-government interface is incorruptible," Modi said.
The first day of the “Digital India Week” saw top industry houses pledging investments worth Rs 4.5 lakh crore in various technology ventures that can potentially add 1.8 million jobs.
The campaign is as much an invitation to domestic and foreign companies as a promise to improve systems, remove bureaucratic sloth and reduce red-tape that often delays processes and decision-making, and encourage start-up enterprises.
Modi also announced a slew of digital programmes — digital lockers to store documents, e-Sign using Aadhaar, e-Hospital systems, National Scholarship Portal, Centre of Excellence on Internet on Things (IoT) and a high-speed digital highway — that aims to make government services more efficient, easily accessible and hassle-free.
The Ambani brothers, present on the occasion, showered lavish praises on the PM, saying India has now got a decisive and visionary leader.
Reliance Group chairperson Anil Ambani said the Indian story, which had been driven by 3-Ds -- democracy, demographics and demand, now had a fourth 'D' (decisiveness.
"With Narendrabhai assuming charge as Prime Minister, we inaugurated a new era in our nation's history: of visionary and decisive leadership," he said.
Digital India, he said, would add another unique dimension to that story.
Modi is India's greatest and among the world's most popular leaders in the digital space with over 80 lakh followers on Twitter and over 3 times that number – or 2.5 crore followers -- on Facebook, he added.
"In other words, Digital India carries the signature of a leader whose name is synonymous with the transformational power of connectivity and communication," he said.
Anil-led Reliance Group committed to invest about Rs 10,000 crore over the next few years to expand its presence across digital, cloud computing and telecom space.
His older sibling, Mukesh Ambani, whose Reliance Jio is set to launch telephony and broadband services by December, said India is fortunate to have a Prime Minister "who not only paints a comprehensive and compelling vision but has the personal leadership and drive to convert his vision to reality."
"It is my conviction, Prime Minister, under your leadership, the Digital India initiative will create a partnership among all sections of society... a partnership that will leverage the power of 1.2 billion Indians. A partnership built on the ability and industry of all our citizens," he added.
Reliance Industries will make an investment of over Rs 250,000 crore in the digital space, including rollout of wireless broadband infrastructure and manufacturing of mobile handsets.
India's largest private telecom services operator Bharti Airtel's Sunil Bharti Mittal said Modi understands the power of technology.
"Who better to lead this initiative than our own very popular and beloved Prime Minister, who is a digital native, perhaps a handful of leaders around the globe who understand and is comfortable with the technology. Who is an avid user of Facebook and Twitter and a person who has set a trend of selfies," Mittal added.
Aditya Birla group chairperson Kumar Mangalam Birla, who has pledged to invest $7 billion over the next five years in network roll out, broadband and wi-fi deployment, commended Modi's futuristic thinking.
"Digital India is a truly exciting possibility. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has articulated the whole vision, which reflects his clairvoyance and his futuristic thinking," he added.
Billionaire mining baron Anil Agarwal said the industry will actively participate in the drive as it has the potential to drive India ahead as a knowledge and economic power.
"Whenever the government has trusted the industry, it has performed whether it is telecom, pharma, power etc. I can assure you (Prime Minister) in the coming days if you will trust us we will succeed," he said while speaking at the programme.
Agarwal-led Sterlite Technologies has promised to set up an LCD panel manufacturing plant in the country with an investment of Rs 40,000 crore.
Tata Group chairperson Cyrus Mistry said: "I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister on digitally empowering the country."
Industry chamber FICCI termed launch of "Digital India Week" programme an important milestone to engage with renewed energy to transform India's digital infrastructure for the next generation users and the unconnected.
"As the entire world is looking at India, it makes practical sense to launch such a grand programme which has the potential to catalyse the investment process in this high technology sector and simultaneously generate employment," Ficci president Jyotsna Suri said.
NIIT CEO Rahul Patwardhan said digital infrastructure being setup under Digital India will support Skill India by enabling mass scaling of skill development, using technology as a mass delivery mechanism.
On his part, Ernst and Young global telecommunications leader Prashant Singhal said knowledge, e-services and connectivity are a must for developing 'India of future'.
NetApp India and Saarc president Anil Valluri said, "Digital India's success would also be a function of the underlying technology infrastructure with data becoming the nucleus of this thrust."