Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Reuters
When Narendra Modi addressed the International Conference on Defence Offsets at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January 2013, he harped on the need for a policy that would make India self-reliant in defence production as well as create a pool of technically skilled people. In September that year, he spoke about the need to learn the practice of secularism from the Indian Army.
The armed forces clearly figure heavily on Modi 's mind. On Friday (February 14), in a live video broadcast on giant screens at the NASSCOM Leadership Summit 2014 in Mumbai, he likened India's army of IT engineers to soldiers. Like our army, which helps defend the borders of our nation, our IT industry should also play its role in ensuring our security in cyberspace, he said.
Standing ovation apart, the reaction to the speech as overheard during the coffee break was mixed.
"Normally, one would expect a politician to give a political speech. This one was different. People talk about technology, but Modi has actually used things like social media, etc," said Anupam Govil, Partner, Avasant & president, Avasense, a business and technology consulting company. Avasant is a management consultancy in technology. Avasense is into Busines Process sourcing and outsourcing.
Modi 's point was indeed valid. India has a huge shortage of cyber security specialists. There are only 556 trained people in this field in the whole country, compared to 125,000 in China and 91,080 in the US, according to a whitepaper published by ASSOCHAM-KPMG in October last year.
But some were less impressed. "There wasn't much (in the speech) that we didn't know," said a Mindtree official who didn't want to be named.
Much of Modi's speech - in a mix of English and Hindi - was peppered with references to the merits of technology. He also touched upon education, start-ups and healthcare. "Good governance seems to have become a weighty subject today. Because of bad governance we know what problems we are facing," he said.
His claim that India was on the verge of a breakthrough in the digital world at the global level also caught attention. "It can happen sooner than you think," said Chandrashekhar Kakal, who set up Infosys' Hyderabad Development Centre in 2000.
Modi also said that India's import bill for chips for electronic equipments would soon surpass the country's oil import bill, and that he wanted chip fabrication units to be set up. That was perhaps the only time he touched upon the need for expansion of the hardware industry. hip fabrication in India is still pretty much limited to specialized areas such as aerospace.