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PM Modi and US Tech Giants: A Tech-Driven and Green Future for India

India Asia

On April 10th, Elon Musk announced plans to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hinting at future Tesla projects in India. Throughout his administration, Prime Minister Modi has been known to promote digital advancement and climate consciousness in the Indian economy. As the country approaches its general election, Prime Minister Modi is highlighting the need for more renewable energy projects, engaging with US tech giants to create “greener” opportunities.

Prime Minister Modi’s Past Green Initiatives:

Since the start of his tenure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has established himself as global leader in the fight against climate change. In 2014, shortly after he first assumed office, the Government of India attended the 20th session of the Conference of Parties (COP-20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). During the event, India's former Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, expressed the country’s newfound motivation to combat global warming and pursue economic development, attributing India’s hope of a greener future to Prime Minster Modi’s administration.

Then, in 2021 at the 26th session of COP, Prime Minister Modi took the government’s proactive stance a step further by proposing the ambitious “Panchamrit,” or “immortal foods elements,” pledge. Named after a traditional Hindu and Jain method of combining five ingredients, the five-part pledge stated the following goals:

  1. Reach 500 gigawatts non-fossil energy capacity by 2030
  2. Derive 50% of the country’s energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030
  3. Reduce total projected carbon emissions by one billion tons from now to 2030
  4. Reduce carbon intensity of the economy by 45% by 2030
  5. Achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2070

These climate action items notably addressed the international community’s unsustainable consumption of finite resources, and it brought attention to the underrepresented environmental struggle of low-income economies.

"The transfer of climate finance and low-cost climate technologies have become more important for implementation of climate actions by the developing countries,” said Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Ashwini Kumar Choubey in a statement. “India understands the suffering of all other developing countries, shares them, and hence raises the voice of developing countries.

As of now, Prime Minister Modi’s government has successfully committed to the promises laid out in its pledge. In fact, officials reported that they already exceeded expectations, projecting that the country will derive 65%, instead of 50%, from renewables by 2030.

US Tech Giants: Bill Gates and Elon Musk:

In upholding the Panchamrit pledge, Prime Minister Modi is collaborating with US tech giants to strategically utilize the digital revolution in climate change mitigation. Significantly, his meetings with US companies not only create green economic solutions domestically but also foster diplomatic ties between India and the United States. Particularly, in the past few months, Prime Minister Modi has engaged in environmentally conscious discussions with two tech company leaders: Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

Bill Gates

In March, Prime Minister Modi met Microsoft founder Bill Gates for a broadcasted discussion to talk about technological advancements in different economic sectors, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and vaccinations. Regarding environmental concerns in India, Prime Minister Modi relayed to the Microsoft founder that strides have been made to increase and improve Green Hydrogen projects.

The term “Green Hydrogen” refers to the carbonless production of hydrogen through electrolysis, which involves electricity splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. This form of hydrogen is easily transported and can lead to decarbonized shipping, aviation, and more. Notably, Prime Minister Modi launched India's first hydrogen-powered boat in Tamil Nadu state this past February, giving the country a global competitive edge in the marine sector.

He also advocated in his conversation with Gates for international standards for global development to be changed. Rather than measuring a nation’s development through steel consumption and electricity usage, Prime Minister Modi suggested thinking in terms of “green GDP” and “green employment.” In other words, the Government of India aims to change the way global organizations, industries, and individuals perceive future development—and leaders like Gates play a vital role in normalizing climate-friendly businesses.

Elon Musk

On April 10, 2024, CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk hinted at a future meeting with Prime Minister Modi on his X platform. Some reporters claimed that CEO Musk is exploring the idea of building an electric vehicle gigafactory in India, which could be worth nearly $3 billion. In addition to bolstering Tesla’s international reach, this venture could increase India’s electric Vehicle (EV) sector and employment opportunities. Currently, EV vehicles only make up around 5% of the automotive industry in India, but Prime Minister Modi is hoping to reach at least 20% by 2030.

This partnership between Tesla and the Indian market is likely a byproduct of CEO Musk and Prime Minister Modi’s meeting last June in New York, where they discussed the Indian government lowering import taxes for American electric vehicles. This conversation led to Modi’s administration releasing a new EV policy that lowered import taxes from 100% to 15% for some models, with the requirement that foreign car manufacturers invest $500 million into the country’s EV industry.

However, improvements in India’s EV sector may have to wait, as CEO Musk postponed his visit to India last Saturday. CEO Musk announced on his X (formerly Twitter) account that he had to attend to internal matters at Tesla Motors, mentioning that his conversation with Prime Minister Modi will be rescheduled for later this year.

Future Implications for India and the United States:

Prime Minister Modi’s openness to American projects on Indian soil and the prioritization of his relationships with American tech CEOs create both economic opportunities and environment-friendly alternatives for the Indian economy. Simultaneously, it also provides Prime Minister Modi a leg-up in what will be considered the world’s largest democratic election.

Since April 19, 2024, Prime Minister Modi has been up against other contenders for the 2024 elections, which includes almost one billion voters. The votes will determine what party or coalition occupies the majority of the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the parliament), for the next five years. Additionally, this election cycle will dictate whether Prime Minister Modi remains in power for a third term. According to CNBC, Prime Minister Modi’s rapport with American companies significantly helps his campaign due to his connections showing promise of further economic growth and foreign investments.

For the United States, the involvement of American companies in India’s economy poses a variety of benefits, particularly in terms of critical minerals supply chain. Electric vehicles need lithium to operate, and in 2023, new lithium reserves were found in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. Presently, the United States struggles to regulate its own reserves in states, such as Oklahoma, Utah, and Louisiana. However, India offers US companies the opportunity to stock-up on this finite resource.

As Prime Minister Modi seeks to secure his position in the Indian parliament and American tech CEOs aim to expand their companies’ international reach, discussions will continue, ensuring a mutually beneficial—and hopefully greener—future for both the United States and India.

Denise Sievert Geronimo is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a recent graduate from Colorado College, where she studied International Political Economy and Journalism. She is also a 2024 Fulbright recipient and a 2024 Charles B. Rangel Fellow with the US Department of State.