Bangalore, June 14 2021: Last week, Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, mused on Twitter that he was “not thrilled” that Bangalore is generally referred to as the ‘Silicon Valley of India”. It was “too derivative and wannabe”, he suggested.
Mahindra launched a caption competition, encouraging the twitterati to suggest a more appropriate label for India’s top tech city, and inviting another IT honcho and a son of Namma Bengaluru, Infosys Non-executive chairman, Nandan Nilekani, to co-judge the entries. They announced the winner, submitted by Srinivas P Reddy: ‘TecHalli’, appreciating that by capitalizing the ‘h’ in ‘tech’, he drew attention to ‘Halli’ which means ‘village’ or ‘place’ in Kannada.
There were some naysayers, who pointed out that no one, internationally, who doesn’t understand Kannada, will appreciate the meaning of ‘Halli’, but Mahindra would have none of it, tweeting: "Well, it's time they made an attempt to understand what it means. Much of the world doesn't speak English and didn't initially understand what Silicon Valley meant either." A strange argument as English is the closest the world has to an international lingo, at least in the world of technology – but no one pointed that out and the Indian media, found in ‘TecHalli’, a nice soft news story and a relief from relentlessly downbeat Covid coverage.
But at least one Kannadiga was not amused. Former union minister and Karnataka Chief Minister, M. Verappa Moily has issued a formal statement, saying the attempt to erase the international brand of the ‘Silicon Valley of India, was “unfortunate and regrettable”. He had reason for his angst and he reminded readers, in case they had developed amnesia: As a minister in the D. Devaraj Urs cabinet from 1972 to 1977, who held the MSME portfolio, he had taken the initiative to acquire a big chunk of land, in Anekal taluk, on the outskirts of Bangalore to create an Electronic City which attracted some of the largest Indian and global tech players.
This was true enough, though Electronic City formally came into being in 1978, as a project of the Karnataka State Electronics Development Corporation (KEONICS), whose then Chairman R.K. Baliga, is generally credited as a moving force in the early years, which ultimately saw the likes of Indian tech biggies, Infosys, TCS, Wipro, HCL and TechMahindra, all set up units in the new “City”.
In his stint as Chief Minister of Karnataka between 1992-1994, Moily reminds, he also helped create the International Tech Park, Bangalore (ITPB) with the participation of a Singapore government entity, Ascendas, in another suburb, Whitefield and actually thought of naming the city, ‘The Silicon Valley of India’ after a visit to the US.
Many today credit S.M Krishna, Karnataka chief minister from 1999 to 2004 with helping consolidate the Bangalore brand by his largely hands-off policies when it came to letting tech enterprises in the city grow unfettered by government interferance.
The phrase 'Silicon Valley of India' certainly stuck – and Bangalore soon became India’s biggest concentration of infotech players, Indian and international. But it was only one of many variants that the media conjured up:
A linguistic perfectionist argued that Bangalore was not in fac,t a valley – unlike the original in the US, which wa,s as it stretched across half a dozen small cities -- Sunnnyvale, Santa Clara, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Cupertino -- from San Francisco to San Jose, in what was known as the Southern Bay Area. Bangalore on the other hand is situated at a good 920 metres height, atop the Deccan Plateau and hence needed to be called ‘Silicon Plateau’.
This was an unwieldy phrase – and many disregarded the topographic anomaly and still went with ‘Indian Silicon Valley’, though equally popular, was ‘India’s Silicon City’ – if one is to judge by the number of local establishments that call themselves ‘Silicon City College’, ‘Century Silicon City’ and the like. It remains a favourite name for academic institutions and apartment complexes in the Karnataka capital.
Mahindra and Nilekani have a challenge on their hands, if they want to succeed in their namakaran. It won’t happen unless global reference sources – like Wikipedia -- agree. As of today the Wikipedia entry for Bangalore( ‘also known as Bengaluru’) says unambiguously: “Bangalore is widely regarded as the "Silicon Valley of India" (or "IT capital of India") because of its role as the nation's leading information technology (IT) exporter.”
And to meet Wiki’s verification policy, it cites two authorities for this name: a March 2006, New York Times story by Saritha Rai: “Is the next Silicon Valley taking root in Bangalore”, updated with a December 2012 piece from CNN by Naomi Canton: “How the 'Silicon Valley of India' is bridging the digital divide?”
An interesting aside to all this: the original Silicon Valley and the Indian aspirant were not that apart in time. The phrase “Silicon Valley” for the Bay Area, south of San Francisco was first given, by a journalist, Don Hoefler, in his story on the burgeoning electronic industry in that region, in US trade newspaper, “Electronic News” on January 11, 1971. But it came into wide use only a decade later in the mid-1980s, after the launch of the IBM PC.
By that time, Electronic City in Bangalore was already up and working. And Hewlett Packard whose origins lay in the still-preserved garage of a home in Palo Alto, in the American Silicon Valley, was soon another marquee name with a plant in the Indian Silicon Valley, right next to Infosys in Electronic City.