Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Silicon Valley on Saturday in its own language, using its own terms, its own idioms, and it accepted him as one of its own.
“I was blown away,” said Vivek Wadhwa, who was a guest at a dinner attended by tech titans of Silicon Valley, five of whom were on stage with Modi.
They were Cisco’s John Chambers, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs and Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen - three of them of Indian descent.
“They are five of the tech world’s best CEOs and Modi stood head to head with them,” Wadhwa, a Silicon Valley watcher, went on, adding: “His talk was better than all theirs.”
“He clearly seems to understand the implications of these technologies in more ways than I would have accepted,” former Sun Microsystem co-founder Vinod Khosla told BBC.
While the Prime Minister had one-on-one meetings with tech leaders such as Apple’s Tm Cook and Tesla’s Elon Musk, Saturday night’s dinner was his pitch to Silicon Valley.
It was at this dinner, with this speech, that the PM was to introduce his vision of ‘Digital India’ - as the event was called - to this hub of global innovation and enterprise.
Also among the guests were Airbnb’s Nathan Blecharczyk, Uber’s Travis Kalanick, Oracle’s Safra Catz, Tesla co-foudner J B Straubel and SoftBank’s Nikesh Arora.
Modi established his familiarity with, and command of, the complex world of technology early on in his speech with one-liners that were both funny and perceptive.
“Google today has made teachers less awe-inspiring and grandparents idler,” the prime minister said, setting up his speech. “Twitter has turned everyone into a reporter.”
“The status that now matters is not whether you are awake or asleep, but whether you are online or offline. The most fundamental debate for our youth is the choice between Android, iOS and Windows.”
With that, he quickly established a rapport with the audience - he was one of them now, speaking their own language with unassuming felicity.
Citing real-life instances of how technology was changing lives all over the world, especially so in India, PM Modi framed his vision of Digital India: “When you think of the exponential speed and scale of expansion of social media or a service, you have to believe that it is equally possible to rapidly transform the lives of those who have long stood on the margins of hope. So, friends, out of this conviction was born the vision of Digital India.”
But getting there will require, he told the techies, thinking like them, and who can do that better than they themselves?
“So, from creating infrastructure to services, from manufacture of products to human resource development, from support governments to enabling citizens and promoting digital literacy, Digital India is a vast cyber world of opportunities for you.”
New destinations, he added, required taking new roads.
Modi said with Digital India, the government will “transform governance, making it more transparent, accountable, accessible and participative.”
“I spoke of e-governance as a foundation of better governance - efficient, economical and effective. I now speak of m-governance or mobile governance. That is the way to go in a country with one billion cell phones and use of smart phones growing at high double digit rates.”
Modi said: “Since my government came to office, we attacked poverty by using power of networks and mobile phones to launch a new era of empowerment.”
“I see technology as a means to empower and as a tool that bridges the distance between hope and opportunity,” he said. “In this digital age, we have an opportunity to transform lives of people in ways that was hard to imagine just a couple of decades ago.”
Modi said the government wants paperless transactions and announced plans to set up a “digital locker for every citizen to store personal documents that can be shared across departments”.