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India's Prime Minister Urges Indians To Stay In Their Country


And it's time for All Tech Considered.


SIEGEL: The Prime Minister of India wants to stop the technology brain drain in his country. Over the weekend, Narendra Modi visited Silicon Valley where he called on Indians to come back. Tens of thousands of U.S. tech workers are from India, many holding H1B visas. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports some who heard the prime minister's call found it appealing.


SANJAY LEELA BHANSALI: (Singing in foreign language).

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Last night in a packed stadium in San Jose, performers serenaded Prime Minister Modi, and he serenaded the crowd with a call to action.


NARENDRA MODI: (Through interpreter) This whole brain drain - people going out - has to stop.

SHAHANI: Repeatedly over the weekend, Modi talked about India's massive workforce - 800 million people under age 35. It's a democracy unlike China, and he's committed to deregulation. It's not the government's job to run a hotel or a Google. Now is a great time to stay or come back.


SHAHANI: The audience agrees, and Modi says, this brain drain can also become a brain gain. Did anyone ever imagine?


MODI: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAHANI: The prime minister's trip brought a community conversation into the spotlight - NRIs, shorthand for nonresident Indians. NRIs want to see India develop so that ambitious people can stay. In large part, it's personal. Satej Chaudhary has been here about 15 years and works for the tech giant Oracle.

SATEJ CHAUDHARY: When people come here, there's this one thing that just remains in their heart. And our parents are back home getting older. We kind of want to take care of them, but we're stuck with - do we choose your career, your parents?

SHAHANI: Many NRIs say the same thing.

NEERAJ ARORA: I'm still very connected. I go back three times a year.

SHAHANI: That's Neeraj Arora, vice president of WhatsApp, the company Facebook bought for $19 billion. Arora says Bangalore may be better than Silicon Valley at seeing what less-developed countries need. Take PayTM, which makes money by helping people without bank accounts pay bills online.

ARORA: A lot of my friends have actually gone back and joined some of these companies. And they are doing cutting-edge work. They are, in some cases, better than their counterparts here in the Valley, right?

SHAHANI: Maybe better from a technology standpoint, but culture is a huge barrier. Garima Sood says Indian tech companies aren't as much fun.

GARIMA SOOD: Here in the U.S., they have every Friday or Thursday the happy hours. That's really good. Like, it's good for the employees because the companies really taking care of them, and they are knowing that we want our employees to be happy.

SHAHANI: Other barriers are outside the control of companies. At a conference Sunday afternoon, tech celebrities talked about how to replicate Silicon Valley back home, and one of the biggest things that has to change...


ROHIT BANSAL: I got married back in 2009.

SHAHANI: Rohit Bansal says too many parents won't let their daughters marry a startup founder. Sounds like a deadbeat. Bansal founded a company worth $5 billion, but he discovered...


BANSAL: It was far harder than convincing investors to invest in our company than to convince my wife's parents that I'm OK.

SHAHANI: Prime Minister Modi dropped by the stage before going to the stadium. And instead of giving a rousing speech in Hindi, here, he spoke in the universal language of business.


MODI: We have a huge market with rapid growth and untapped opportunities in every sector.

SHAHANI: Business leaders complain about how unpredictable India is. Companies get unexpected tax bills. Bureaucrats want bribes - tons of paperwork to put up a website. Modi made this promise to skeptical investors and founders.


MODI: You will succeed on the strength of your genius and enterprise, but when you need a helping hand or when you find hurdles in your way, we will be there for you.

SHAHANI: He asked them to give him a report card in the coming months.


MODI: Thank you very much.


SHAHANI: Aarti Shahani, NPR News, Silicon Valley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.