Locating the Technology Agenda in India’s 2024 General Election

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India’s national election has begun. Both of India’s major national parties highlight the promise of technology to reshape India’s future. The winning party will have to navigate a fast-changing global technology landscape. India is attempting to be a world leader in advanced areas of technology, while bridging a “digital divide” to use technology in ways that improve the lives of underserved populations. The U.S.-India technology partnership can contribute to India’s goals in three ways: coproduction and research collaboration; the strengthening of existing mechanisms like the U.S.-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET); and leveraging India’s demographic dividend.

Technology Agenda in Election Manifestos

The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) manifesto promises to make India a champion in technological innovation through cutting-edge research. Its most significant promise is to operationalize the National Research Foundation (NRF) and build robust research and development infrastructure.

Additionally, the BJP manifesto states the aim of making India a high-value services center by setting up a new global capital center, a global tech center, and a global engineering center. It also states the party’s intention of setting up a research fund with an investment of approximately $12 billion to provide loans to promote scientific research.

The manifesto also promises the launch of India’s first human spaceflight mission as well as landing an Indian astronaut on the moon in the foreseeable future. The recent foreign direct investment policy changes for satellite-related manufacturing in India are intended to enable technology transfer and investment from U.S. companies.

Furthermore, the BJP has pledged to create a comprehensive ecosystem under the IndiaAI Mission. The BJP has also promised to implement the National Quantum Mission and create a national geospatial data registry and geospatial data exchange.

On the other hand, the manifesto of the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC), reiterates the party’s role in establishing the scientific and technical foundations for India’s rise as a global software powerhouse and building world-class research and higher education institutions. Its manifesto pledges support for the adoption of cutting-edge technologies like AI and robotics with the aim to create innovative job opportunities.

The INC also promises to mobilize the massive capital required for India’s transition toward green energy and puts a clearer emphasis on renewables compared to the BJP.

U.S.-India Technology Partnership

Whether through creating an enabling policy ecosystem for innovation in AI and quantum technology or through physical research and development infrastructure, there are multiple avenues for collaboration in the U.S.-India partnership.

First, U.S. firms could reorient their traditional view of Indian companies as mere outsourcing partners and invest in deeper technological collaboration. Industries involving weapons systems, semiconductors, space, telecommunications, and supercomputing are ripe for partnership, especially considering security concerns tied to China’s predominance. Joint efforts to co-develop and co-manufacture defense technologies of mutual interest, including jet engines and artillery systems, should be fast-tracked. The United States and India should also advance cooperation in chip research and semiconductor manufacturing. The GE Aerospace-Hindustan Aeronautics partnership to co-produce F414 jet engines for the Indian Air Force is a good model to follow.

Second, existing mechanisms aimed at expanding science and technology collaboration, like the U.S.-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies, should be further strengthened. Initiatives like this can be used to support the NRF as India can learn from the experiences of the National Science Foundation, an independent U.S. federal agency that supports science and engineering across all states and territories. At this stage, India is not a front-runner in AI research, and collaborative research projects between U.S. and Indian universities could be beneficial for both nations.

Third, India, as the world’s most populous nation, has a large demographic dividend. Economic scale, a large market, a robust talent pool, as well as a strong start-up ecosystem can serve as commercial strengths. These factors augur well for the development of science and technology in India, and the next government in India should further leverage these strengths. The U.S. and Indian governments can benefit not only from low-cost labor and cheaper innovation, but also from supporting production for domestic consumption. Partnerships in human resource development will go a long way in achieving this. 

Collaboration on science and technology between the United States and India is mutually beneficial. It would help Indian firms cement themselves as technological leaders through the co-creation of intellectual property and through the leveraging of their vast technical talent pool. India’s leadership in science and technology will benefit its citizens and its economy, while improving the security environment in the Indo-Pacific. On the other hand, the United States would gain a secure and dependable supply chain partner. The new government in India should leverage these opportunities and shift from rhetoric to more tangible cooperation on the ground.

*Jayant Krishna is a senior fellow (non-resident) with the Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and a distinguished fellow at the Foundation for Advancing Science and Technology (FAST India).

Jayant Krishna
Senior Fellow (Non-Resident), Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies