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Taking Silicon Valley Culture To India
Friday, November 21, 2008

As I look back now on the successes Indians have achieved in the United States since my own arrival in 1967, it gives me great satisfaction and pride. I am particularly pleased with two things: First, the tremendous success of some Indians is reinforcing the faith that India and Indians can compete with the best and brightest in the world; second, a sizeable portion of the huge wealth created by these individuals is going back to India to support a variety of projects that will enable less privileged countrymen to advance.
For years, India lived by socialism. Its leaders constantly berated businesspeople for their accumulation of wealth. Businesspeople were perceived to be dishonest and making money was considered bad. Consequently, with no competition, enterprising businesses were not allowed to grow. The media — especially television and radio — was government controlled, always painting a rosy picture of the country. The media also almost always focused on its leaders, to the exclusion of everything and everybody else.

I remember my visit to India in the 1980s when Rajiv Gandhi was in power. He had promised to bring computer literacy to the country and take the nation into the twenty-first century. It never happened, not because Gandhi did not have the wherewithal to increase the use of computers in the country, but because the media, controlled by his own government, still fed the nation nonsense.

I remember watching a newscast, which may have been the All India Radio or Doordarshan, and all it seemed to be reporting on what Rajiv Gandhi did that day, and what his plan was for the next day. This piece of “news” took 13 minutes out of the 15 minutes for the entire newscast. This seriously undermines democracy in the country and failed to bring about an awakening in the minds of the people. Ultimately, democracy is a marketplace of ideas, which just did not exist in India; there was no exchange of ideas, no differing perspectives, a fact that seriously held back societal development. Without intellectual honesty and a free media to express it, no society can progress.

Since the 1990s, we have both intellectual honesty and a free media, in India. Satellite television, now privately controlled, has had a huge impact on society. Rather than painting rosy pictures of India, these channels are portraying the country and society as they are, and society is actually benefiting from the exercise. About a decade has passed since the Berlin Wall came down, the USSR broke up — and now even China has caught on with capitalistic practices. Indians are now questioning the wisdom of socialistic policies; they are just now posing the question: “Hey, why not us?”

In this situation, the level of success achieved by Indians in Silicon Valley is inspiring the nation. In fact, the information technology industry as a whole has given renewed hope to Indians that we can fight with the best and the brightest in the world and win. The success of these Indians sends out the message that we are not losers; it has restored self-confidence in the nation.

One may not accept a lot of the ideologue of the Bharatiya Janata Party but I personally love one: they want to restore the nation’s pride and self-confidence.

The second most important thing achieved by the Indians’ success here is their newfound ability to guide development of the country — and, in many cases, also fund it.

A lot of us here have gotten very rich within the past 5 or 10 years. Our lifestyles, though, has not had time to change dramatically. We drive better cars and live in better homes, but that’s all; there’s not much else we can do with our wealth. The sudden wealth, however, does give us the resources to do things that we could not have otherwise imagined: philanthropy, supporting our alma maters and participating in the US political process.

Unlike richer Indians in England, whose wealth makes them more and more insular and distanced from the motherland, Indian Americans are building bridges with the home country. They are visiting India more often, are collaborating with businessmen in India and are also being social entrepreneurs, funding a variety of educational and social projects to help the underprivileged.

This, to my mind, stems from core American values. Successful Americans always pay their dues to their alma mater, their local parish and the local communities. Similarly, Indians who have succeeded here are paying their dues to their homes and alma mater, as it should be.

India’s freedom movement was started and fought by barristers who studied in England. The next revolution — the economic freedom movement — will hopefully be led by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who will bring Silicon Valley values to India. I only hope we can achieve the same level of success as the ’40s freedom movement, but in a lot less time.

In recent years, my goal has changed to transporting Silicon Valley values and cultures to India. If we can do this successfully, why would Indians need to come here to succeed?

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